Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

39975719Lynn: You could not ask for a better book to booktalk than Escape Under the Forever Sky (Chronicle, 2009)! Sit back and picture this: the Ethiopian wilderness, a thirteen-year-old American girl who has been kidnapped, escapes and with her captors right behind her, runs barefooted straight into a hidden pride of lions. After a heart-stopping moment, the lions rise and surround the girl. Are they going to protect her or eat her? Then you tell the teens that this scene is based on a true story.

Happily, this compelling book reads as well as it booktalks. 13-year-old Lucy Hoffman is the daughter of the American ambassador to Ethiopia. Lucy, who hopes someday to be a naturalist, begs to be allowed more freedom but her mother keeps her expeditions tightly restricted. Frustrated, Lucy rebels, sneaks out and is kidnapped, waking to find herself lying in the dark, blindfolded, tied up and barefooted. As the time passes, Lucy realizes her captors may soon kill her. Feisty Lucy uses her knowledge of nature and her own determination to escape and survive.

This nail biting story is packed with encounters with lions, hyenas, and warthogs but it is also much more than just a survival story. Lucy is a wonderful character with a fresh and authentic voice and young readers will instantly connect with her. Her captivity and journey leads not just to rescue but also to a very believable growth in self-understanding and maturity. The third corner of this strong triangle is the setting. Ethiopia emerges as a vivid breathing place, not just somewhere mentioned in a headline, bringing the warm complexity of its land and people to life.

I think this wonderful book is perfect for those Africa curriculum units and as a suspenseful classroom read-aloud. Don’t miss Eve Yohalem’s terrific website too. Stock up with multiple copies – you won’t be able to keep this one on the shelf!

Cindy: I did stock up with extra copies, but three wasn’t enough! I booktalked this last week with 7th grade world studies classes that needed fiction set in Asia or Africa. This one was very popular. I was only halfway through reading the book myself and told the students I wanted to stop booktalking and go home to keep reading the public library copy I had there. Lucy uses flashbacks to fill in details of her earlier experiences in the country, which sometimes feel instructive, but the information Yohalem imparts in these sections helps the reader to understand both Lucy and the country’s culture a little better. Lucy is a great heroine, she has faults but learns to recognize them and readers will be cheering her all the way to the end. Dare I hope for a sequel? It doesn’t need one, but I’d be up for more adventures with Lucy in this setting.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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