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Overboard    by Elizabeth Fama order for
by Elizabeth Fama
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2005 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Fourteen-year old Emily Slake yearns for 'a normal life'. She wants to return to the States to her old school and friends. For the last year and a half, Emily has been living in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra with her parents, who are there with World Physicians for Children. Uncle Matt, who has arrived from Boston for a tour on the neighboring island of Weh, invites Emily to spend a few days with him in the town of Sabang. Emily boards a ferry to Weh, hoping that her Uncle will convince her parents to let her return with him to Boston.

It is the Islamic month of Ramadan, a time for fasting, holidays, and family visits, and the boat is overloaded. Travelers notice the ferry tilting at an 'unnatural angle'. When the captain distributes life vests, Emily passes hers to a small boy. Upon inspection of the locker, Emily finds there are no more vests, and in the frenzy, the locker door closes behind her. She hears a voice - 'It won't open, This is what it's like to die, but it will be O.K. It will be quick' - and it's her own. Eventually, Emily struggles to the surface of the water. It's dusk, and the skyline is illuminated in orange and red, with pink clouds. The boat is upside down. She hears screams and splashing, and a chant rises, 'La ilaha illa Muhammad Rasul Allah' ('There is one God, Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger'.) Struggling to stay afloat, Emily hears a small voice crying, and it's the boy, Isman, to whom she gave the vest. The two form a bond, as Emily teaches him to swim, and he teaches her of his faith. Their hopes of reaching a point of light, seen in the darkness, wane positive and negative into the morning light.

Elizabeth Fama introduces readers to the culture of Indonesia, including a slower pace of life ('jam karet' or 'rubber time'); and personal beepers sounding off the time for afternoon prayer. Though I appreciated the drama of endurance and survival - the depiction of the will to live - I was disappointed by the lack of interaction with other victims and of mention of family concerns about Emily's absence. I also yearned for more descriptions of the country, its language, and its people. Fama's experience of living overseas as a child, and a real ferry disaster (in which an estimated 400 drowned in January 1996, off the coast of Sumatra) prompted the author to write Overboard.

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