Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Edition) by Daniel James Brown

Joe Rantz is a teenager who has had a bad life. His mom died when he was 4-years-old. Then Joe got Scarlet Fever and was relegated to an aunt’s attic while his father remarried a new woman who wanted nothing to do with Joe and eventually kicked him out of the family. On his own and forever on edge about being repeatedly abandoned throughout his life, Joe eventually makes it to Washington University where he tries out for the crew team because the members to make it are guaranteed a campus job in the time of the Great Depression when no one could find a job. This is the story of Joe, his emotional problems, and his perseverance to not only make the crew team but become one of the best teammates on board the boat, the Husky Clipper, which won Olympic Gold in 1936 against the Nazis.

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Now I usually don’t like history books, but I do enjoy memoirs and am partial to stories of either Vietnam or the Holocaust (so much drama). This book feels like a memoir and a sports adventure. The pacing is done really well, flipping between the main characters interesting and psychologically important backstory to the journey to gold. The boys on the crew boat started out as sons of working class poor families that were used to building fences and farming and mining. Crew was normally an upper-class sport where the Eastern old-money teams like Princeton always won out. This is a great David and Goliath story of rich versus poor and democracy versus Nazi Germany. Normal boys showed that they too could be made of great stuff.

I loved the suspense of the play by play regattas (even though I thought I wouldn’t). And I liked the build-up of who would make the Olympic team boat because the coach kept of switching the team members around to different boats and places to find the fastest team. It was interesting when the coach thought they’d do better a certain way and then didn’t. It’s a sports psychologists dream. I loved all the characters in the book and I loved to hate a few of the villains as well. Even through nonfiction, the book was character driven and drew you into the personal stories even as you were rooting for a team to win a regatta.

I also liked how the story had the back drop of the stock market crash, Dust Bowl, Great Depression job crisis, and Hitler’s secret (so far) strategies to start war and take over Europe. It felt like a great story without having history shoved down your throat. And it also helped you place a real life involving story in a time period. I haven’t read the original story, but I think that this adaptation could appeal to 6th graders and up and really encourage them to persevere despite their life circumstances. (And, of course, the audio was awesome)