Sink or Swim: A Novel of World War II

Sink or Swim: A Novel of World War II
Age Range
Release Date
October 31, 2017
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It's been a month since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. America is officially at war with Germany and Japan, and everyone wants to do their part. In twelve-year-old Colton's case, that means stepping up at home once his older brother, Danny, ships out with the navy. But before Danny leaves for boot camp, the brothers are fishing on the Atlantic Ocean when Danny's boat is capsized by a Nazi U-boat, nearly killing him.

When more U-boats start attacking the next day, Colton realizes just how close the enemy is to American shores. With Danny's life in the balance, Colton does the only thing he can think of to help his family and his country: He steals his brother's enlisting papers and joins up instead.

Colton's bold decision leads to a deadly journey. Even if he can keep his age a secret and survive boot camp, he'll have to face Hitler's ruthless submarines. But the longer he's on the seas, the less sure sure Colton is that he and his shipmates can stop such a relentless enemy . . .

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1 review
Very young soldiers in WWII
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Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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When Colton's brother Danny is injured by a U Boat while out fishing in the Outer Banks, Colton decides to take his brother's papers and go into the navy in his place. Their father is dead, and their mother can use the navy pay... even though Colton is only 12! When he does a good job teaching a number of the men how to tie nautical knots, he is offered a place on a patrol craft, scouting for U Boats. He is a hard worker, sends home all of his pay, and makes friends with Woody, a farm boy, as well as Straub, who watches out for him. He is assigned to help cargo ships get from New York City to Key West, and there are a few problems with U Boats. When things get quiet, it's because the German vessels have moved North, and the PC is assigned to help ships get to England. On one mission, Colton's boat is badly damaged. Men die, and a few are left to survive on a life boat. Colton is badly injured, so when he finally returns to the US, his mother is alerted and tells the navy his age. While this is a fictional work, an afterword says that it is based on the real life story of Calvin Graham.
Good Points
This had everything I could want in a WWII novel. Sympathetic protagonist, slightly different outlook (PC with the navy), good period details (including a brief appearance by Ernest Hemingway's sons), lots of military action, and a predictable but very sad death, so that readers don't glamorize war. I am always surprised at how much I sometimes enjoy a WWII book, and it is definitely a popular topic with many of my readers.

Young readers will want to imagine themselves in Colton's place. Colton is too good to be true. He is a good seaman, sends home all of his pay except for a dollar here and there, and doesn't even get into trouble while on liberty. Most young readers would imagine themselves as this kind of soldier.

Sink or Swim is excellent addition to the list of WWII fiction, and probably Watkins' best work.
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