From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8--A 12-year-old protagonist replaces Ernest Hemingway's elderly Santiago in this takeoff on the classic novelette, set this time in coastal Maine. Skiff has lost his mother and, since her death, his father, once a hardworking fisherman locally known for his skills with a harpoon, has sunken into such deep, beer-soaked despair that his son can't seem to rouse him off the couch. As Skiff tries to single-handedly stem the rising tide of slovenly decay threatening to swamp what's left of his family, he also must contend with Tyler Croft, a bullying rich kid who sabotages his efforts to get ahead. Things seem entirely hopeless until the day he sees a giant tuna hauled in from offshore and sold for a large sum as a source for premium sushi. The fish literally and symbolically embodies all of Skiff's ambitions for a better life, and he decides to try to catch one using just a 10-foot plywood boat and a harpoon created by his father. As in The Old Man and the Sea, the ensuing adventure is told through an inner dialogue, one in which Skiff sometimes imagines he is speaking to his mother. This excellent maritime bildungsroman has all of the makings of a juvenile classic: wide-open adventure, heart-pounding suspense, and just the right amount of tear-jerking pathos, all neatly wrapped up in an ending that--unlike its namesake's--is purely triumphant. A great read-aloud, a natural for classroom use, and a must-have for all collections.--Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
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Gr. 5-6. Philbrick, author of Freak the Mighty
(1993), channels Hemingway but adds a more conventional happy ending in this mesmerizing boy-meets-big-fish tale. Of his recently dead mother's three rules--think smart, speak true, and never give up--Skiff Beaman has taken only the last two to heart. With his dad reduced to a grieving drunk and their fishing boat needing thousands of dollars in repairs, Skiff goes for death in the afternoon, chugging out into the Maine fog in a 10-foot skiff on a quixotic quest to harpoon a valuable bluefin. Thirty miles out to sea, he meets his monster tuna. In the best survival-story tradition, Skiff's account will leave readers as exhausted as he becomes; battling his quarry and then bringing it in takes every ounce of courage and endurance that he can muster. For seasoning, Philbrick adds a supportive cast of older neighbors and a bully, then demonstrates that the sun also rises by finishing Skiff's ordeal with the boy wrapped in his reformed father's arms. A moveable feast for fans of Gary Paulsen, or nautical adventures in general. John PetersCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved