When Joe was little, he had a really rough time of it. His mother died when he was very young and then his father shipped him across the country to live with his aunt for two years. When his dad remarried, he sent for Joe to come back. However, Thula, Joe’s new step-mother, never seemed to take to him. Joe found himself set aside when he was fifteen years old and had to survive on his own while his father and stepmom left with the four younger siblings.
This made Joe leery of trusting others, but he was determined to go to college. He started at the University of Washington in Seattle in the fall of 1933. This was a rough time in the United States. The stock market crash of 1929 had cascaded down into all walks of life, and so Joe had a hard time finding jobs so he could pay to attend school. That was mostly the reason he found himself at the rowing try outs. Because each freshman that made the rowing team was guaranteed a part time job on campus – which might bring in enough money to keep him from having to drop out of school.
The rowing team was not easy though. There were close to 200 new freshman that wanted a spot on the boats, and already upper class teams in place. So competition was fierce. But there was something special about the boys that showed up to row that year, and even the year after as well. Something that made the coach of the University of Washington believe that he could put together a shell (as the boats are called) that could take Washington to the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. And it was possible, that Joe just might be in that shell, rowing it!
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a fast and interesting read about the United States rowing team that entered the Berlin Olympics. This is a wonderful story about a boy finding his inner strength and how it is possible to move beyond your past.
Recommended for grades 7 and up.