I’m always on the lookout for”science-y YA books” as I call them. In my experience, there are lots of middle grade realistic fiction books with a science focus or angle but they seem to disappear once kids are out of middle school. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Kate Messner mentioned Karen Rivers’ Before We Go Extinct on Facebook last week. I quickly ordered a copy and I read it in one sitting over the holiday weekend.
JC earned his nickname, Sharky, after watching the documentary Sharkwater. But this isn’t just a story about sharks; this is a grief story with a solid side of science. Sharky recently witnessed the death of his best friend, The King, and is struggling with moving forward. When the third member of their threesome begins to gain notoriety due to her relationship with The King, Sharky is pushed to the edge. He shuts down and stops talking. As a result, his mother decides he needs t get out of the city and away from the tragedy consuming his days. She sends him to the Pacific Northwest to spend the summer with his absent father who is the caretaker on a small island. Sharky and his hippie-esque father have always been distant from one another and he doesn’t expect that to change when he arrives on the almost-abandoned island off the coast of Vancouver. And then he meets some of the other residents of the small island and he explores the island and the surrounding waters.
This is a story packed with ecology and conservation but it’s not preachy. Rivers’ descriptions of the plant and animal life on the island and in the water are stunning and breathtaking. I found myself rereading passages because they were so beautiful. The shark behavior and other animals introduced are realistic and intriguing- I know that I went on to look up the area and the biodiversity located there after I finished the book. This would be a fantastic book to pair with an environmental science class. I’m already imagining opportunities to get students outside looking at the plants and animals in their own backyards through Sharky’s eyes.