Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

I've been lost three times in my life. Once was with my friend when I was in 6th grade. We were riding our bikes and took one too many unknown turns and ended up in a field on a gravel path. It wasn't really that scary we'd packed a lunch, had planned on having an adventure and, in my small home town, all we had to do was pedaled to the top of the hill (hard on gravel, but not impossible) to see in what direction we needed to pedal to get back to town.

The second time involved my sisters and my grandparents house in the country. It was a little dicer, but still not that bad. We'd been walking in the fields and ended up walking to a creek out of sight of the house. We sat under a shady tree to cool down and tried to walk back the way we came, but ended up at the bottom of an, I swear, 90 degree hill. At the top of the hill we could see the house. Without food or water it was kind of hard to get up the hill and about half-way up we sat down...bad idea if you are trying to climb a vertical hill in the summer heat. but, we crawled up encouraging each other to get to the flat surface where the fence and yard were. Right when we thought we couldn't go any farther we heard our aunt calling us. She could see us and lifted the barbed wire to let us in. We were scolded with kisses and kool-aid and cold baths. She hadn't thought we were lost at all as she could see us from the dining room window the whole time.

The third time was something else entirely as it involved hiking in the dark unknown. It was my second year of teaching and a group of us had gone hiking. We left early and got to the natural bridge and creek at a wonderful time of day. The only problem was the seed ticks in our socks. We tried to follow the same path back, but it started getting dark and we lost our way. We were in a national park, but hadn't signed the post to say we were going to be in there. It grew pitch black and we didn't have any flashlights. We were not prepared for a night hike. It felt like we were going in circles and the seed ticks didn't help either. We ended up hiking up a hill in the dark straight into someone's back yard. These people were kind enough to take us to our cars.

After reading the book Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby I realize I've never been lost at all, and I'm not sure I could survive if I were left to my own devices in some sort of wilderness.

Sarah is a misfit at her preppy school. The girls make fun of her clothes, her mom works in the cafeteria and her dad isn't really in construction, he's a construction worker. She goes on the class field trip to the Everglades to hopefully get to know the students in her class better. Her hand-me down clothes and old camera just make her more out of place and when it's only her teacher giving her the time of day. She decides to take the scary advice of a local boy; she decides to go in an airboat into the Everglades. 

There are so many aspects of this book that are just beautiful, will do an excellent job of reeling in reluctant readers and are honest and real. Ginny makes a point to give us clues into Sarah's life but not everything comes to light until the end. Each chapter is divided up into how many days the kids are in The Glades. In Andy, we find a character who's life seems to mirror Sarah's own, however, Andy doesn't have the kind of parental support and therefore doesn't have the same opportunities. However, Andy is more than just your typical boy and Sarah isn't that 'fraidy cat girl she seems to be at the beginning. Finally, we have the Everglades. In this forest of water and trees we find all that is wonderful about nature and all that is deadly. There are gators and gator-crushing pythons, poisonous snakes, fire ants, Palmetto bugs (which I guess is a fancy Florida word for large roaches) and a baby duck named Teapot. 

In the end, I forgot all about how a stupid mistake got them into this mess and I forgot to think of the wilderness as scary instead I focused on the social and emotional issues of being a teenager and of being true to who you are. Rorby doesn't fail in giving us much to talk about at the end and over at YA Reads, we've talked about everything from the baby duck, to believable characteristics, to the wilderness, to what it means to be a teenager, to the cover of the latest edition. Yes, this book is that good and has that much going on. I loved every breathless minute!

5 Stars
I know enough about this girl, the country and boys like Andy to make this book so much more than enjoyable. If you read it and don't smell the swamp by the end you're doing something wrong.

Teacher Advisories 

Sex 1/5
Hand-holding, first kiss kissing
Language 0/5
If there was a cuss-word at all I missed it.
Substance Abuses 1/5
They allude to Andy's father drinking.
Violence 4/5
Lots of stuff goes on, but it's written in such a way that I feel it would only be a 4 or 5 if maybe a young kid was reading this book. I can't get the water-logged cracked peeled foot skin out of my head, there's also a scene with a python crushing the life out of an alligator that is just disturbing in its truthfulness, Palmetto bugs crawl all over them *pauses to scratch cheek*, an alligator snatches a bird taking flight, dead fire-ant rafts, fire ants, snakes, a pretty intense scene were one is wrapped around Andy's leg and there's lots and lots of mud. Ick.

Touchy Subjects
There are two questions that Ginny ask be thought about when reading this book:

1. Do you think there is a reason the author put a Confederate flag in the garage? How does Andy feel about the flag? How does Sarah? What is its significance to you?

2. There is a quote in the author’s notes by John Dufresne. Why is that quote significant to what you know about Sarah?

As a person of mixed heritage, I think discussion of race in the novel is tantamount to discussing the book itself. Be prepared for race dialogue, to discuss the context of the Confederate flag et cetera.

Sure, some of the characters in the novel act stereotypically, but is this a good or a bad thing. What are stereotypes and how do we overcome them?
Social Class
Separation because of wealth status. Does being poor really matter?

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option (although this book would make an excellent addition to school curriculum)
2] Links for:
Ginny's spoiler alert
Topics for discussion
3] I'm going to see if Lit Muse, my lit club at school, wants to read it


  1. Dear Stephanie,
    Thank you so much for the great stories and the wonderful review. I would like to add, especially since many of your readers are teachers and school librarians, how grateful I am to them. The character of Mr. Vickers is a tribute to real Mr. Vickers, my 7th grade biology teacher. He made me love science. The wonderful part is, I found him, and have seen him, and he knows that he was tremendously important to me as a kid and as an adult. Whether you ever find out about it or not, I hope all teachers know how important they are--in a life changing way--to the growth of young minds.

    If any of you decide to use the book in class, I love doing phone-in interviews. All they have to do is email me to set up a time.

    Thank you again, Stephanie

  2. Cool I love this book please make not we read this book in 6th grade and it is so amazing


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