Attacked at Sea: A True World War II Story of a Family’s Fight for Survival

Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt. (True Rescue). Oct. 2020. 224p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250128065.
Gr 5 Up–The latest installment in the “True Rescue” series will capture the interest of reluctant readers and adventure fans alike. In May 1942, the Downs family boarded an old freighter boat called the SS Heredia to catch a ride back to their home state of Texas from Costa Rica. Ray Downs Sr., a white American, had been employed by the United Fruit Company in South America, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was determined to move his family back home so he could join the U.S. Marines. The family boarded the freighter with a few other passengers and a full crew of sailors. One day before their arrival in New Orleans, the Heredia was hit with a torpedo from a German U-boat and sank. The family was separated and spent a harrowing 24 hours at sea, clinging to debris and avoiding attacks from circling sharks. Eventually, they were spotted by a plane and rescued by shrimp boats. Tougias and O’Leary provide a remarkably exciting blow-by-blow account of the family’s ordeal. Their tale of the days on the ship before the attack builds tension and is interspersed with stories from aboard the two German U-boats that were patrolling the Gulf of Mexico and sinking any ship they encountered. Readers learn about life inside a stifling submarine and the crew’s techniques for hunting and taking down ships.
VERDICT This exciting, highly readable story of survival deserves a place on most library shelves. Perfect for young history buffs and older fans of the “I Survived” series.

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