All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boy’s Soccer team

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (teens and adults)

Themes: Thailand, Tham Luang, Soccer Team, Entrapment, Flooding, Cave divers, Rescue workers, International teamwork, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. The boys are trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spreads, launching a seventeen-day rescue operation involving thousands of rescuers from around the globe. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder: how long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Luckily, the Wild Boars are a very extraordinary “ordinary” group.

Combining firsthand interviews of rescue workers with in-depth science and details of the region’s culture and religion, author Christina Soontornvat—who was visiting family in Northern Thailand when the Wild Boars went missing—masterfully shows how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the thirteen young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission. Meticulously researched and generously illustrated with photographs, this page-turner includes an author’s note describing her experience meeting the team, detailed source notes, and a bibliography to fully immerse readers in the most ambitious cave rescue in history.

What to love about this book:

Christina Soontornvat has adeptly written a story about the rescue of the Thai Soccer team that is riveting and heart-pounding. Most readers know the ending of the boys’ rescue. What they don’t know is the herculean international effort (10,000 people) it takes to bring the team out safely, against all odds they won’t survive. Soontornvat has readers sitting on the edge of their seats as they absorb the details of their harrowing rescue, and the power of the human spirit to survive. The story is suspenseful to the end.  All Thirteen is the best nonfiction I’ve read in a long time.

Soonornvat watches the search for the boys on Thai television. When she returns to the U.S. and sees the media coverage of the rescue, she realizes that “she didn’t see any Thai faces.” The media focuses much of their attention on the expert British and other western divers involved in the ultimate rescue. With her Thai background, she feels she can bring the Thai culture into the story that others miss — a story that “lets the country and culture shine.” Her goal is to showcase the relentless work of the Thai Seals, the military, rescuers, the Get-It-Done-Crew and ordinary volunteers who work day and night to feed everyone and do what ever is needed.

All Thirteen is painstakingly researched. Soontornvat returns to Thailand in October 2018 with only one interview scheduled with Vern Unsworth, a British “cave man” living in Mae Sai. He’s spent many years exploring all the cave passages of Tham Luang and knows it better than anyone. This is a lucky break for Soontornvat because everyone knows and respects him. The two connect and she finds herself booked solid with interviews. It is also important to note that Soontornvat’s mechanical engineering background helps her take scientific information and make it understandable for readers.

The book is beautifully designed and easy to read. There is a narrative that flows throughout the story that draws readers into the center of the action and holds them spellbound. Gorgeous photographs adorn every page chronicling the rescue and diving efforts, the caverns inside of Tham Luang, the boys, the volunteers and the water-diversion teams working to lower the flood levels inside the cave.  Readers are also treated to inserts about the beautiful country of Thailand, the culture, Buddhism, temples, maps of the cave system, diving rules, and information on oxygen concentrations and hypothermia.

Important to the story is the strong relationship between the boys and Coach Ek, the 25-year-old Buddhist soccer coach. He is a major reason the boys survive. He teaches the boys meditation as part of their soccer training. The cave is damp and chilly. The boys are wet, cold, starving and living in complete darkness, except for necessary times when Coach Ek turns on a flashlight. They do have clean drinking water. Coach Ek is determined to keep the boys from panicking or falling into despair before the divers find them on Day 10. He urges them to rest and conserve energy. The boys meditate. They scratch “help” messages into the cave walls. They make promises to look after one another forever. They dream and talk about seeing their families. When divers find them, they are surprised by the boys morale.

Favorite quote: “Breath by breath they each became master of the one thing they can control inside Tham Luang: their own minds.” Page 55

All Thirteen is written for middle grade students, but is also appropriate for teens and adults. The deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. This compelling discussion book belongs in every school library. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for readers who love survival stories.

*Note:  My enthusiasm for All Thirteen was enhanced by attending a virtual zoom book launch October 18 with Christina Soontornvat. It was moderated by author Kate Messner and sponsored by the Book People. If you have a similar opportunity to attend a virtual event, it is worth your time.

Christina Soontornvat is the author of several books for young readers, including the middle-grade fantasy novel, A Wish in the Dark. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in science education and lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. Visit Christina at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy is provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in an exchange for a review.