Survival. The theme of my reading this week was a strong one and not one that was intentional. As I continue to scour through non fiction YA books, I read a bundle of books that all held the concept of survival.
the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.“the animal’s chances of survival were pretty low”
an object or practice that has continued to exist from an earlier time.plural noun: survivals“his shorts were a survival from his army days”
As I ponder this definition I realize that the word moves beyond being isolated in the wilderness. Survival is what we as human beings strive to do on a daily basis based on the environment we are living in.
I started off reading a book that defines survival perfectly. D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson is a YA book that brings the larger volume of The Guns At Last Light into context for a younger group of readers. I have read and studied about WW2 more times that I can count, but this book did a great job of sharing the story in a new light. It intertwined the many layers of battle with stories and facts that would hold the interest of a reader wanting to know more. What stood out to me was that the lives of so many were impacted in ways that we simply cannot fathom. The lives of the students I teach compared to kids their age back then are different in terms of what it means to survive. Survival was not only on the beaches of Omaha where many did not, but for a country, and for people who were innocent and just trying to protect those they loved. Survival resonated strongly because many sacrificed their own lives so others could survive. To read about the pay, the gear, and facts of the time period really resonated with me and reminded me about how grateful we should be for the sacrifices made.
Sacrifice and survival often times go hand in hand. Jumping ahead 45 years to the other side of the world there was another major movement of survival taking shape. Tank Man: How a Photograph Defined China’s Protest Movement is short but powerful read about students gathering and protesting the Communist government in China. These students used a non violent means to stand up for survival against a harsh government. One man stood in front of a line of tanks to protest the aggressive nature of the government. One man was able to freeze military vehicles.
Sometimes survival means standing up for what you believe. Reading this book made me thankful for the country I live in. Even more importantly it fired me up with student voice. Here were thousands of students(many others as well) who stood up and had their voices heard. I am not suggesting a protest in my school or country, but the notion that we have to sometimes not just talk, but move to action when things are not right. We cannot be the innocent bystander and complain about things we cannot control. The people here sacrificed to promote the survival of their people.
Both of these stories have required major changes in the world, government, and countries. Survival does not have to be this large of a scale. If I can jump back in time again to 1952 for The Finest Hours: The True Story of a Heroic Sea Rescue when two oil tankers were split in half during a terrible storm you can read about a classic survival story. This book is once again an adaption from the larger volume of this same story. This book tells the story about how two oil tankers were out at sea, split in half, and while the freezing waters, major snowstorm, and other elements were making life a near death experience, there were brave people willing to sacrifice their lives to save these people lost at sea. I found the stories a bit difficult to follow at first because basically there were four sections that needed rescuing, but once I was able to track names and boats I was hooked.
Remember this is a time where technology is not amazing and material and clothing for freezing temperatures was nothing more than blankets, sweatshirts, and rubber boots and gloves. The part that showcases how cold it was a was when one person stated,
“At one point, my head felt so numb I rubbed my hand over it and felt something. It was a big clump of ice, and when I pulled on it, a big patch of my hair came with it. But it was so cold I didn’t even feel it.”
Survival and sacrifice were demonstrated on almost every page. The heroic rescue and the terrible visuals of saving some, but not all. I am not sure what would be worse – jumping to your death in the 70 foot waves or watching it happen knowing you were so close to saving them.
As much I hated reading about some of these people not surviving I could not think of how awkward and difficult it must have been for Alice and Freda. These two women lived in 1892 and the turn of the century in Memphis. As I read Alice and Freda Forever I was reminded how far we have come with women rights, gay rights, and the cultural shift of how we view people. Alice and Freda were lovers in a time a period that had no comprehension for same sex love. It was not imaginable. There were no words for it. It could not be described and was not something brains could comprehend. We are talking only 120 years ago. To live in a time period where who you are cannot be explained to yourself or others must have been a brain warp. Which is probably why Alice was a bit off her rocker and ended up killing Freda out of a passion of love. What this story brings to light is a shift in society. A challenge to “whiteness”, being a white male and power that comes with it. As the author notes it was bigger than murder as it was a challenge to American Modernity.
As much as I love a good murder story, this story brings to light much larger issues and does so without bogging down the reader. I found this book to be really interesting despite knowing the outcome.
As I continue to push forward with books geared for the YA audience in the non-fiction category I see the theme of survival time and time again. What is it about these stories and captivate us no matter who we are?
Until next week………. I hope you take time to check these books out. If you have read something worthwhile be sure to let me know.