I picked this book off my TBR pile because I could have sworn it was a middle grade Cybil nominee. Apparently, I have lost my mind (not a surprise if you know me) because it is not a nominee. However, it must have been fate because boy, am I glad I read Eve Yohalem’s gripping novel, Escape Under the Forever Sky! I am always looking for great adventure novels to hand to my students and this one is perfect for middle grade readers. I finished it during reading workshop today and immediately handed it off to a student.
Thirteen-year old Lucy’s mom is the American ambassador to Ethiopia. At first, living in Africa sounds great to Lucy. She is a budding conservation biologist and dreams of spending her days on game drives and observing wildlife. Instead, she is practically held prisoner in the ambassador’s residence because her mother thinks the city and the country are too dangerous for Lucy to travel through. Instead, she is forced to go to boring state dinners and can only go on game drives every two weeks. So when she and her friends cut out of school to go to the city market, she knows she is asking for trouble. Her mother completely flips out when she catches Lucy in such a dangerous place and grounds her for a month. No game drives, no friends, no going out. Nothing but sitting on the verandah and sending sporadic emails to her friends.
Lucy is angry and resentful, so she plans an escape to a local coffee shop with her best friend Tana. She even manages to send her “babysitter” home with the promise not to do anything stupid. But when Lucy is kidnapped by Tana’s new driver, she realizes that her mother might have been right about the dangers she could face on her own.
Beaten and left to drink parasite-filled water, Lucy knows her only hope is to use her gymnastics training and her knowledge of the African bush to escape. Otherwise, her kidnappers plan to kill her. When she does manage to get away, she is alone and injured in the African wilderness and must avoid almost-certain death from a variety of means. I could not put this book down and found myself on the edge of my seat the entire time. Lucy is a normal 13 year old in an extraordinary situation. However, Yohalem makes it believable.
Readers will find themselves fascinated by the information about Africa and Ethiopia. I can see myself sharing with with adventure lovers and animal lovers alike. At a little more than 200 pages, this is a quick read that will keep students interested and on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended for classroom and school libraries!
This would also make a great read aloud because each chapter ends on a cliffhanger or leaves the reader wondering. The action-packed pages will keep even the most dormant reader’s attention and students will be left wanting to know more about Ethiopia and the African bush.
*Review copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs