Book Reviews

Book Review: Life or Death by Larry Verstraete


More than 30 riveting – and true! – survival stories from Larry Verstraete, the master of adventure non-fiction.

A slave in mid-1800s North Carolina squeezes into a 2′ x 3′ box and has friends mail him to Philadelphia . . . and freedom. A doctor injects 8000 Polish Jews with a substance that makes it appear they have typhus, getting them sent into quarantine instead of to death camps. Apollo 13 astronauts use duct tape, a hose, and other spare parts to fix failed machinery and bring their spacecraft safely home.

Following the popularity of the award-winning At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times, winner of the Silver Birch Award for Non-Fiction, this new collection from Larry Verstraete features over 30 incredible true stories of survivors who found creative ways to beat impossible odds.

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My Thoughts

My friend and (award-winning!) author, Larry Verstraete was blogging and posting recently his thoughts while he read Anne Frank, A Diary of a Young Girl. In one of his blog posts he mentioned another story about a family who helped Jewish people hide from the Nazi’s. He mentioned writing about this family in his book Life or Death, Surviving the Impossible. I remembered that I had a copy of his book, so picked it off my shelf and turned to a story called Behind the Brick Wall.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. Which is odd, because when I do, I find it fascinating. I should really read more, but that’s another post… I was so fascinated with this story, after reading it, I turned to the beginning of the book and began reading it again (I did read it a few years ago when I bought it after attending the launch.) But I’d forgotten many of the details.

Story after fascinating story of survival had me sucked right in. From a young girl, the lone survivor of a plane crash in the jungle taking weeks to find help, to the details of the miners buried under rubble for months while a rescue mission was planned I turned page after page. Some stories covered events that I remember happening in the news and it was nice to have the details all together in one story. Other stories go back long before my time.

Well-written, shocking, and inspiring, I highly recommend this story for older middle graders and young adults alike. Even adults would find these stories almost too hard to believe as they express the true test of the human spirit.

This is an unsolicited review, I purchased a copy at Larry’s launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnpeg.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Canada (Feb. 1 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1443119511

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