Thirteen year old Davey Tsering and his family have just arrived on an island in the Florida Keys for a holiday. His mom and dad and younger brother Brandon, who goes by the name of Brando are hoping to enjoy a week of quiet time. When Davey wakes up their first morning on the island at the Aszure Island Inn, he decides to sneak out of the room his family is sharing and find someplace quiet to read. Davey is a book worm, who loves Tolkien. Grabbing his copy of the Simarillion, he first checks out the beach and the dock where a boat makes regular runs to Key West. As people begin to line up at the dock to take the first boat over the the island, Davey sits under a palm tree and reads. Meanwhile, Drew Dobkin and her parents, from Manchester, England, have arrived at the beach. Drew notices Davey sitting under the tree reading. Drew wants to take a trip over to Key West where she's heard there's more to do.
Meanwhile, Davey decides to wander around the island looking for a quieter spot. He finds that spot on the far side of the island at an isolated beach with an old "No Swimming" sign. At first he just wades into the shallow water and then returns to the beach to read. But eventually, the beautiful, warm water lures Davey back in. As he goes in up to his waist he realizes that he's very far from shore. When he tries to walk back he finds he cannot. Every time his feet leave the sand the water pulls him further out. When he tries to swim to shore, he finds himself being pulled further and further away from the island. Exhausted, he realizes he is being carried out to sea by a rip tide.
When Davey's family awakens, at first they assume he has simply gone for a walk around the island. But a quick search makes them realize that he is no where to be found. Meanwhile Brando struggles with guilt over not having woken his parents earlier in the morning when he first discovered Davey had left their room. When they head to Key West, believing that Davey may have boarded the boat in the morning, Brando is certain this is not something Davey would have done. It isn't until they meet the Dobkin family in Key West that their first real lead turns up.
As Davey is carried further into the Gulf of Mexico by the ocean current, he must deal with the beginnings of hypothermia, exhaustion, the sun, and worst of all, the very real threat of sharks.
Northrop has written a thrilling short novel that is certain to appeal to a wide range of readers. Written in third person omniscient, Northrop first sets the stage by introducing Davey in Chapter 1 and then captures his reader's attention in Chapter 2 explaining to his readers how a tiger shark hunts and that this particular tiger shark is on the hunt. This foreshadows the inevitable meeting between Davey and the tiger shark later in the story. The novel is divided into three sections, Part One Carried Away which explains how Davey ends up in the ocean, Part Two Boy And Sea which focuses on Davey's struggle to survive and Part Three Catching His Drift which chronicles the unraveling of the mystery of Davey's disappearance and the race to save him. While the reader knows what has happened to Davey, the characters in the book do not, building suspense to the thrilling climax of the novel.
Northrop excels at demonstrating how tiny things, missed, misinterpreted can mean the difference between life and death, between a rescue operation or a recovery when a person goes missing. For example, Tam and Pamela, Davey's parents assume that the boy Tony Dobkin saw at the beach was Davey. From that assumption they and the Key West sheriff made a second incorrect assumption that Davey took a boat to Key West, thus wasting valuable time in the search.
There is a varied cache of characters from the quiet, intelligent Davey, his timid but courageous brother Brando, the observant Drew Dobkin, the loud, gregarious Mr. Tony and the authoritative, quick thinking Lieutenant Commander Daniel Bautista of the US Coast Guard.
As an aside, Surrounded by Sharks highlights the dangers of a rip current which are common along many coastlines. A rip current is a strong channel of water that flows out to sea from the coast. It can be only a slight current or very very strong and is responsible for most rescues by lifeguards. The key to surviving should you get caught in a rip current is NOT to swim against it, like Davey did in the novel, but to swim parallel to shore in order to get out of the strong current. This diagram from the NOAA website best explains a rip current and what to do.
Overall a truly excellent novel for boys especially and also those who like adventure and mystery.
Surrounded By Sharks by Michael Northrop
New York: Scholastic Press 2014