A great real-life adventure story for my cousin.
December 15, 2005 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for three or four real-life adventure stories that would entertain and enthrall a twelve year-old boy.

My younger cousin has asked for real-life adventure stories for Christmas. The only one that comes to mind is "Into Thin Air," which I haven't read myself (he would like that, right?). I'd like to do a bit better than that. Any recommendations would be appreciated. My cousin is really into sports, if that helps. Bonus points if the books have some literary value, too.
posted by Dasein to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Thor Heyerdahl might be a good place to start.
posted by interrobang at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2005

I always liked the story of the Christmas Truce.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:40 PM on December 15, 2005

I've never read the book, but I've always really liked the story of Ernest Shackleton.
posted by borkingchikapa at 6:59 PM on December 15, 2005

I think this book right here about Earnest Shackleton's survival adventure in the Antarctic is about the most amazing real life adventure I've ever encountered. It is mind blowing at times, funny, moving, and inspiring. I read it as an adult, but I'm pretty sure I'd be enthralled if I were 12.
posted by crapples at 6:59 PM on December 15, 2005

Mutiny on the Bounty is the classic of the genre. Completely enthralling, and appropriate for any age. And it's literary!
posted by jdroth at 7:02 PM on December 15, 2005

Paddle the Amazon by Don Starkell is about he and his two sons taking a canoe 12,000 miles from Canada to Belem, Brazil, where the Amazon meets the Atlantic. Extremely good book.
posted by nitsuj at 7:05 PM on December 15, 2005

The A&E movie with Brannagh as Shackleton was pretty good. My kids and I caught an IMAX movie on the same subject ("Shackleton's Arctic Adventure") which was phenomenal. The flyover of the little whaling village at which they eventually arive nearly brought tears to my eyes.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2005

Adrift: 76 days lost at sea. Author's last name is Callahan. Awesome book about a not rookie sailor having a really bad three months. Alone. He wrote the book himself, so the spoiler is that he lived.
posted by bilabial at 7:07 PM on December 15, 2005

Dang! Bilabial beat me to it. That's a great book.
posted by contessa at 7:11 PM on December 15, 2005

How about "Call of the Wild", or any other Jack London tales?
posted by Marky at 7:35 PM on December 15, 2005

Back From Tuichi.
posted by euphorb at 7:57 PM on December 15, 2005

posted by bricoleur at 8:09 PM on December 15, 2005

We read this Bear Attacks book when I was in the 8th grade. It was horrifying and I loved it.
posted by Alison at 8:21 PM on December 15, 2005

Dick Proenneke's story is a good one. It's not action-packed, but it's definitely an adventure.

If he's not squeamish, Aron Ralston -- who amputated his own arm after a huge boulder fell on it while he was -- has a book out. I didn't read it, but there was an excerpt in Outside that was pretty good.
posted by dseaton at 8:36 PM on December 15, 2005

posted by frogan at 8:44 PM on December 15, 2005

Peter Freuchen's Book of the Eskimos, I read it and Thor Heyerdahl's books obsessively at that age.
posted by 445supermag at 9:07 PM on December 15, 2005

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. I don't know if a summer spent alone in the frozen tundra studying wolves qualifies as an adventure, but it's an interesting book, and suitable for that age group.
posted by Pigpen at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2005

I will third or fourth Shackleton. And the short story "Leningen versus the Ants" completely freaked me out as a kid.
posted by marxchivist at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2005

Gary Paulsen enthralled and entertained me at that age.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:58 PM on December 15, 2005

If he's at all interested in World War II or the sea, Shadow Divers is pretty fantastic. It's the story of two American recreational divers who stumbled upon a U-boat in about 200' of water just off the coast of New Jersey. Neither the US or German militaries had any record of a boat sinking in its vicinity, and the boat itself was devilishly hard to identify.

Two months after reading it, I got an Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and Enriched Air Nitrox scuba certification. I attribute a lot of my enthusiasm to the book.
posted by SemiSophos at 10:06 PM on December 15, 2005

Two that come to mind, not "adventure" in the life or death, but "having an adventure" sense are My Lead Dog was a Lesbian (a novice news reporter runs the Iditarod) and Road Fever (Tim Cahill and driver set a road record for tip of South America to tip of North America.)
posted by karmaville at 10:17 PM on December 15, 2005

Again with the Shackleton. Gripping stuff.

Into Thin Air was OK by me, but I really liked Into the Wild, by the same author. However, at the age of 12 he might find some of the speculative passages dry.
posted by Miko at 10:29 PM on December 15, 2005

I wish I could remember the name of this, but there was a tale of a boy who decided to live in a hollowed out tree and live off the land, all with the permission of his parents. I don't remember much except that he used a controlled fire to expand the interior space of the hollowed tree.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:33 PM on December 15, 2005

kickstart, I'm pretty sure you're thinking of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I read it when I was about 9 and loved it (it didn't hurt that Jean George lived in the next town over from me.) The author really did a good job of getting me to identify with the main character and imagine myself in his situations. The one thing to look out is that Amazon's recommended age range for that book is 9 to 12 years old. Dasein's cousin is at the top end of that range, and if he's an advanced 12 there's the chance he might see it as a "kid's book."

Dasein, I was a huge fan of the largely-forgotten privileged vagabond Richard Halliburton when I was around your cousin's age (maybe a couple of years younger.) After dropping out of college, he did things like swim the length of the Panama Canal (he paid a 37 cent toll!) and climb Mount Fuji in winter. He even died in befitting style, disappearing at sea at the age of 39. His books catalog his adventures. It would be great if a kid of today's generation could help keep his memory alive.

Having said that, however, there are a few things to consider before deciding to introduce your cousin to Halliburton:

1) These books date from the early 20th century and a lot of the adventure comes from their description of a world largely unknown to most Westerners of the day. These books felt dated to me (but in an interesting way) 30 years ago. But I don't know your cousin and what was interesting to me then might be alienating to him today.

2) Probably the biggest issue for his parents, especially if they're prone to long bouts of political correctness: Halliburton wrote through the eyes of an early-20th-century Westerner, and a privileged one at that. By the standards of today many of his descriptions of people and events would be considered at best insensitive and at worst racist. The stories are exciting in spite of this, but you may want to consider if your cousin is mature enough to separate the stories from their underlying prejudices. For the right kid this could be an opportunity for growth -- an example that you don't have to like everything about a book or work of art to appreciate its good parts -- and could even be a good stepping-off point for positive enriching discussions concerning issues of prejudice. But if your cousin is extremely impressionable, there's a risk that he could pick up some ideas that could get him in trouble.

3) I haven't read these books in a very long time and I was an embarrasingly-precocious kid, so I don't know how difficult the language might be for a 12-year-old in 2005. He was writing for a popular audience of all ages, so I'd guess it's not that tough, but there may be expressions or words that would require extra attention from your cousin. Again, this could be a good thing for his cultural enrichment, as long as the style isn't so foreign as to be alienating.

In spite of these reservations, for the right kid these books can be a great introduction to the mysteries and insight of exploration as it was done in the early 20th century. But I'd browse through a couple of them before deciding if your cousin is that kid.

Also, you might want to think about The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, though it may be hard to get in time for the 25th. Cousteau was a real interesting dude and if I remember the book correctly, he takes the reader through his adventures as he and his colleagues invent the modern practices of diving and underwater exploration.

Salon's review of the documentary film The Silent World, talks a little about the book.
posted by Opposite George at 1:22 AM on December 16, 2005

You Mefiers are great. I'll definitely look into the book about Shackleton - I wonder if there are similar books about Scott or Franklin. Also, thanks for your many other suggestions, including Mutiny on the Bounty, Adrift, and Thor Heyerdahl and Richard Halliburton's books. I will take a look at all the suggestions, and I appreciate your time. Pease keep these great suggestions coming.

Marxchivist, I love Leningen versus the Ants, but I've never really been clear - is the phenomenon it describes - a vast swathe of rapacious, insatiable, omnivorous ants devouring the rainforest and all its inhabitants in an insect Blitzkrieg - real?

Pigpen, I read Never Cry Wolf just last year and loved it. It didn't occur to me, because I guess I was thinking more along the lines of a life-and-death adventure, but I'll see if I can find my copy for my cousin. Thanks. Too bad he won't get quite the kick out of the description of the Ottawa bureaucracy that I did.

Once again, thanks so much everyone, and please keep it coming.
posted by Dasein at 2:58 AM on December 16, 2005

How about Touching The Void?
posted by pollystark at 3:08 AM on December 16, 2005

Just thought of another: Arabian Sands. True story of crossing the Empty Quarter on camelback.
posted by bricoleur at 3:55 AM on December 16, 2005

Perhaps not quite what you're looking for -- it's a fictionalized retelling of his real-life adventures as a pilot -- but Saint Exupery's Wind, Sand, & Stars was a tremendously inspiring adventure book for me. Highly recommended.
posted by skyboy at 5:25 AM on December 16, 2005

I would add:

Young Men and Fire, by Norman Maclean, which is a beautifully written and well researched story about a mountain fire which killed 13 "smokejumpers" in 1949, and

The ever-popular "soccer players who eat each other" story of Alive.

Both are a bit macabre, but I think most twelve-year-old boys would consider that a plus.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:46 AM on December 16, 2005

Pardonyou?, I love the version of "Cold Missouri Waters" that Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky do about that forest fire tragedy.

More great recommendations. Thanks, everyone. I'm going to have trouble narrowing this down to only a few books.
posted by Dasein at 11:07 AM on December 16, 2005

Reach For The Sky, the story of Douglas Bader, WW2 fighter ace. Without any legs (he lost them in a car crash before the outbreak of war). He was shot down over Germany and captured. The Germans had to confiscate his prosthetic legs to stop him escaping. I believe a movie has been made out of it.
posted by djgh at 11:13 AM on December 16, 2005

Though not a rip-roaring adventure story, Richard Proenneke's "One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey" is fascinating. As seen ad nauseum on public TV over the last couple of years, Proenneke chucked it all and built himself a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness in the 60s. He kept a detailed diary as well as filming and photographing himself as he built the cabin, hiked and hunted. The book covers his first year in the wilderness. I don't know if he's still alive, but last I heard the area has been turned into a national park and Proenneke, now in his 90s, has lifetime occupancy rights to his cabin and spends (or spent) time there in the summers.
posted by lhauser at 11:46 AM on December 16, 2005

"Lost on a Mountain in Maine" by Don Fendler is a true life first person account of a boy about 12 who got lost for 9 days on Mnt Katadin. It was written in the 50s. I loved it when I was 12.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:45 PM on December 16, 2005

The Bear That Consistently Killed The Fucking Shit Out Of You
and other MetaTales of the Great Outdoors
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:04 PM on December 16, 2005

In case anyone checks this, I ended up scouring used book stores in Toronto for most of these books, figuring that it would be better to get my cousin a lot of cheaper used books than a few new ones. So in the end, I was limited mostly by what I could find. I still spent more than I was planning on, but it was worth it. In the end, I found:

Reach For The Sky by Paul Brickhill

Capsized (not Adrift) by Steven Callahan

The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

The Glorious Adventure and The Flying Carpet by Richard Halliburton

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

Young Men and Fire, by Norman Maclean

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Alive by Piers Paul Read

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger

As well as two or three others. So he's got enough reading to last until next Christmas!

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.
posted by Dasein at 8:36 PM on December 25, 2005

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