Booklist: Survival Stories

For readers looking for action-packed survival stories in real life situations, here’s a selection of fiction and nonfiction about struggles to live through harrowing condition at sea, in the mountains, and in the wilderness.

PeakPeak by Roland Smith

On April 25, 2015, nineteen people died on the slopes of Mt. Everest when an earthquake triggered an avalanche. Nevertheless, the quest to scale the tallest mountain in the world calls to many, perhaps too many, guaranteeing that the slopes will once again fill with climbers. The showmanship of this kind of achievement is one of the issues in Roland Smith’s Peak. 

Peak is the given name of a fourteen-year-old, daredevil teen boy who is arrested for scaling a skyscraper in New York City. As a way out of juvenile detention, Peak agrees to cross the globe to stay with the mountaineer father he barely knows. His father has a scheme to make Peak the youngest to ever climb Mt. Everett, a dangerous scheme that could be big money for Peak’s dad. This is complicated by the fact that a fourteen-year-old Nepalese boy in the same expedition.

Readers can expect Smith’s characteristic high-level suspense and authentic details. The added drama of Peak’s race to be the youngest flushes out the undercurrents of greed and ambition that can fuel such deadly expeditions.

no summit out of sightFor a real-life counterpart to Peak, try No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits by Jordan Romero and Linda LeBlanc. Romero holds the record for being the youngest person to climb Everest on May 22, 2010. This was after the publication of Peak. But Smith foresaw how controversy that would surround the ascent of such a young person. Although Romero breezes past these objections in his books, there were accusations that allowing Romero on the mountain was “verging on child abuse.”

Smith has a sequel to Peak coming out in October, 2015, titled The Edge. In this one, a group of young climbers is attacked by a group of mercenaries. Some are killed. Peak must track the group and rescue the survivors through the bleak landscape of Afghanistan.

Other books about survival in the mountains:

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Alive: The story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read
Savage Mountain by John E. Smelcer
Death Mountain  by Sherry Shahan


jkt_9780545709392.pdfAdrift by Paul Griffin

Friends Matt and John work at odd jobs as they save money for college. Thus, they are selling ice cream in the Hamptons when they meet three young people who invite them to a party. But that night, one of the girls tries to surf in the dark with disastrous results. Matt and John accompany their new acquaintances on a rescue mission. In hindsight, they should have known better than to head into open water in a small, unequipped boat. Once the group is adrift in the ocean, however, there is plenty of time for recrimination, and for facing unresolved issues of the past. As much a psychological thriller as a survival tale, all of the teens are tested in ways that could destroy their bodies and minds.

unbrokenFor a real life look at the physical and psychological torments of being adrift at sea, Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken: An Olympian’s journey from airman to castaway to captive is unsurpassed. The story of Louie Zamperini has captivated readers and movie-goers with more-harrowing-than-fiction adventures. The young adult version is packed with photographs and includes as interview with Zamperini.


Other novels about survival at sea:

The Raft by S. A. Bodeen
Adrift: Seventy-six days lost at sea by James Callahan
The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong
The Perfect Storm: A true story of men against the sea by Sebastian Junger


alabama moonAlabama Moon by Watt Key

For all of his ten years, Moon has lived deep in rural Alabama with his radical anti-government father. They live almost completely off the grid, interacting only with the man at the store that trades with them. Moon’s father has created Moon’s reality, and when he dies, Moon truly has no idea what the world holds beyond their primitive life. He is about to find out.

Many issues are raised here. Are parents obligated to raise their children to succeed in the dominant society, even if that society violates the parents’ own set of moral values? Legally, parents do have some responsibilities, such as education and health care. This is why some families decide to sever all ties with society and government. Once a minor is identified, the state is authorized to insure that the child is receiving shelter, schooling, etc.

That is what happens to Moon.

Key wrote a companion novel to Alabama Moon that follows the story of Hal Mitchell, an older boy that Moon meets when he is sent to a reformatory. Dirt Road Home is another kind of survival story, as Hal is trapped in the gang warfare that surrounds him in lockup.

Other novels about survival in the wilderness:

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
My Abandonment  by Peter Rock (adult with teen appeal)
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston


when the worst happensFor readers who want short but true survival stories, try Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s When the Worst Happens: Extraordinary stories of survival.  Reading like a guided tour through catastrophe, the book includes four main stories that take place in such diverse locations as an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, a mine deep underground, a rainforest in Brazil and a stranded cruise ship. The tone is a bit incredible, but the accounts are real.

Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick.