I have not cried over a book in a very long time, but this is a book that will take your emotions on a wonderful rollercoaster ride. The author, Theodore Taylor, laid out a story meant for middle grade boys, but will appeal to all ages, especially to adults as you read between the lines and find deeper meaning in his words.
The story begins for eleven-year-old Phillip on a February night in 1942 when German submarines invaded the island off the coast of Venezuela, where he and his parents lived. Phillip’s dad worked in a refinery on a program to increase the production of aviation gas. HIs dad had moved from Virginia, with his wife and son, Phillip, because he felt doing this job would support the war effort.
Phillip’s dad felt they were safer to stay where they were, but once the submarines began to sink ships in the area, Phillip’s mother wanted to take him with her and return to Virginia. Phillip’s dad finally resigned himself and made arrangements for them on a ship he thought would ensure them safe passage.
They had hardly started the journey when a German submarine torpedoed them at three o’clock in the morning on April 6, 1942, only two days out. (The month is important to the story.)
Phillip ends up unconscious on a raft with a huge, older, black man who spoke with a strong dialect that put d’s at the beginning of words, and left out the end letters of words. Just reading the dialect alone became an interesting challenge to see if I could understand what he was saying. Most modern books only put in a short burst of dialect and let the reader assume the rest. This book was published in 1969. The man’s name was Timothy and throughout the book he speaks in his native dialect. I loved it!
The interesting aspect of this story is that Phillip’s mother had taught him to be prejudiced against these black men who worked on the docks or on the ships. Now he is alone with this man, who he has been taught to hate, and a cat that belonged to the cook on the ship, Stew Cat.
Phillip obtained a serious head injury in the blast and after three days of blinding headaches, he loses his sight. Timothy tries to reassure him he had seen that happen to a man he knew and later his sight returned. Phillip’s does not.
They land on a small island with no inhabitants, a Cay, and as the days pass, hope of rescue diminishes. Because Timothy had been looking after himself and working on the docks from around the age of ten, he knows survival skills that Phillip would never know. But Timothy also knows that he has to prepare Phillip in case something happens to him. He cuts a cane and teaches Phillip to find his way around the island with it. He ties a rope that leads to a signal fire that Phillip can follow if he hears a boat or plane and Timothy is not around.
Many times there is tension between Timothy and Phillip. Timothy is trying to help them survive and take care of Phillip. A task he probably didn’t desire to have at this time in his life when he is 70 plus years old. It takes a while for Phillip to get over his prejudice and to understand the things Timothy does to help him gain independence, like making him do work that he is capable of, even when blind.
At one point when Timothy gave Phillip the job of weaving mats for them to sleep on, Phillip, in frustration, screams at Timothy, “‘You ugly black man! I won’t do it! You’re stupid, you can’t even spell…’ The book continues with, “Timothy’s heavy hand struck my face sharply. Stunned, I touched my face where he’d hit me. Then I turned away from where I thought he was. My cheek stung, but I wouldn’t let him see me with tears in my eyes. I heard him saying very gently, ‘B’gettin’ back to wark, my own self.'” (p.71) Timothy returned to winding strands of vine into a rope as he sang a song. The book continues, “The rope, I thought. It wasn’t for him. It was for me.” (p. 72)
And here is a tear worthy section:
“Something happened to me that day on the cay. I’m not quite sure what it was even now, but I had begun to change. I said to Timothy, ‘I want to be your friend.’ He said softly, ‘Young bahss, you ‘ave always been my friend.’ I said, ‘Can you call me Phillip instead of young boss?’ ‘Phill-eep,’ he said warmly.” (p. 72)
The story moves forward with them making plans for rescue and working together to help each other. Phillip has to care for Timothy during an episode of Malaria.
When Timothy reads the signs in the atmosphere and realizes a hurricane is coming, he makes preparations to save both of them, along with preparations for Phillip in case something happens to him.
Some Timothy- isms I found endearing to the story are:
- He calls Phillip “young bahss” (young boss)
- Dat be true.
- Outrageous (he said that about everything) The last sentence of the book reiterates the word.
In the front jacket of the book Timothy is describes as a “very old black West Indian.” His character is described as, “dignified, wise, and loving”.
There is so much depth to this story, but I will stop here because it is so important for you to read the book. If I give away the ending, you might not realize what you would be missing if you never read it. It is a story that will touch your soul. A story like no one writes in these modern times. I encourage everyone of every age to read the book. It’s a quick read, so you can stop anything you are reading now and once you begin this book, you won’t be able to put it down until you reach the end.
If you do read the book, please let me know. I will be so excited for you:)