An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Christina Soontornvat

YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is awarded each year, chosen from a field of 5 finalists (2021: Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh). This year’s finalists covered a wide range: the space race, a primer on democracy, the memoir of a genocide survivor, and a biography of a complex figure in the narrative of the United States. And then there is Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team which takes readers on a harrowing journey underground and into the hearts of the boys, their families, and the international rescue team working to bring them out safely.

Recounting the details of the 2018 event where a team of soccer players and their coach go exploring and find themselves trapped by unseasonable flooding in the cave system of Tham Luang, Soontornvat draws upon her Thai heritage and an immense wealth of empathy and curiosity to tell this gripping and emotional story. In this interview, we talk survival and sports and much more.

THE HUB: This book is so compelling! I, of course, had heard the story of these boys and their coach who had been trapped in this cave. I knew the outcome, and still I was completely captivated. I was nervous. I felt the urgency of the rescue. I was terrified at times! All the while, I knew that the outcome was a good one, was a miraculous one in many ways. How did you do that? What magic were you working to create such intensity and urgency in a story where the outcome was already known?

SOONTORNVAT:  Thank you! That was something I worried about a lot when I was writing – that people who knew how it ended might not want to read it. But really when I was interviewing people who were involved in the rescue, they were still so emotional about what happened. They were there in the flesh when the boys came out alive, and they still kind of got goosebumps and still pinched themselves, saying, we can’t believe this actually worked! It was still very raw for them. So I was just trying to capture that emotion that I felt when I was speaking with them, even though it was 2 months after the rescue took place. 

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