I don’t read a whole lot of middle grade non-fiction.
But then I read a book like All Thirteen and I think, “WHY am I not reading more books like this?”
I requested this from the library after it snagged a Newbery Honor (and a whole lot more awards, as you can see from the cover!) and then picked it off my self on a whim one afternoon.
And then I read the whole thing in about 48 hours.
It is a TERRIFIC book and I can’t rave enough about it.
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat
You may remember all the news coverage about this story from 2018.
I was aware of it but the details of it were extremely fuzzy for me. So aside from knowing the happy ending, I had very little understanding of exactly what took place.
And what took place was pretty miraculous.
The story begins with a soccer team in Northern Thailand. They’re all between 11 and 14 and on the afternoon of June 23, 2018, after soccer practice, many of the boys on the team (12 of them) and their coach decide to go on a little hike to the most famous cave in the area – Tham Luang Nang Non.
The boys who can’t go head home and the other boys head out on their bikes to the cave, dropping their bikes near the entrance and then hiking in.
They go a bit further then they intended – about three miles in – before finally turning around to return home.
And in that time, the cave has flooded, leaving them no way out.
I didn’t have any feel before I read All Thirteen why exactly the cave flooding was such a problem and kept them trapped. I mean, couldn’t they just swim out a bit?
It wasn’t a big open cave flooding, it was tight passageways and tunnels that they’d squeezed through that were flooding. The water was picking up TONS of dirt and silt, so there was no visibility in the water. Oh, and it’s pitch-black, so even if the water was perfectly clear, there would be nothing to see.
Getting out on their own was not even remotely feasible.
As it becomes clear their children are missing, the families and Thai officials quickly gather at the mouth of the cave, trying to determine how to rescue the boys stuck inside.
And it quickly becomes clear that a rescue mission is going to be incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible and it’s going to take the best efforts of volunteers from all over the world to even have a shot at success.
(It takes them ten days to even reach the boys and discover that they’re still alive. And then they still have to figure out how in the world to get them OUT).
It’s the sign of a good book when you know the ending and you’re still on the edge of your seat the whole time, and this is one of those books.
It’s packed with incredible details (I learned so much about pumping water and sump diving and anesthesia and so much more) but never at the expense of the story – it moves at a quick pace and I never lost interest for a moment.
And the pictures and graphs really help bring the story to life (the audio version also has terrific reviews, but I was glad not to miss the visuals in this one).
When I gushed about this book on Instagram a few weeks ago, I got a bunch of questions asking if it would be appropriate for an 11 or 12 year old and the answer is ABSOLUTELY.
It’s intended for ages about 8 -14 (I think much younger than that and the details might be a bit complicated and overwhelming for a young reader) but it’s just as good as an adult reader.
If you have a non-fiction lover or a child who loves real life adventures, I can’t say enough great things about this book.
And if you love a great, true story, All Thirteen is for you too.
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