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27 January 2021 ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THAI BOYS’ SOCCER TEAM by Christina Soontornvat, Candlewick, October 2020, 288p., ISBN: 978-1-5362-0945-7


“Darkness, darkness,

Long and lonesome,

Ease the day that brings me pain.

I have felt the edge of sadness,

I have known the depth of fear.”

-- The Youngbloods (1969)


“In order to understand how the Wild Boars became suddenly stranded inside the cave, you have to understand more about the cave itself. Tham Luang is the fourth longest cave in Thailand. Compared to the longest known cave in the world, Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, which is 405 miles (653 kilometers) long, the Cave of the Sleeping Lady is just a baby. But it’s not the cave’s length that makes it dangerous.

It’s the way it floods.

The mountain that holds Tham Luang cave is made of rock called karst limestone. This is a very holey type of rock found all over the world, from Southeast Asia to the United States. Whenever you find karst, you almost always find caves. 

When rain falls on the Nang Non mountains, it doesn’t just run over the surface. Much of that rain sinks straight down into the mountain’s millions of holes, soaking into the ground like a sponge. When the Wild Boars walked into Tham Luang, it was dry. But what the boys didn’t realize was that the heavy rains that hit the area a few days before had completely saturated the ground beneath their feet. The boys didn’t know that the dry ground they walked on masked a mountain already filled to the brim with water.”


ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THAI BOYS’ SOCCER TEAM alternates between what is happening deep in the cave where the boys and coach are trapped, and outside the cave where experts, parents, and local volunteers have amassed. There is no way for the trapped team to communicate with the outside world, so those debating how best to reach the boys and coach actually have no idea whether the team is alive or dead. 


We know from the title that the soccer team members and their coach will make it out alive. But that doesn’t matter. The tension builds and builds as days pass, as various plans are proposed and scuttled, and as the boys face day after day of hunger and isolation. It all kept me on the edge of my seat. 


After ten days of growing fears that the boys will be found dead, a pair of rock-star cave divers from Britain reach the trapped soccer team. I was in tears as I read the emotional scene when the divers prepared to leave the flooded chamber with promises to return. 


Problem-solving methodologies utilized in the rescue are one of the big takeaways of the story. Several times, the book describes techniques employed by US Air Force Major Charles Hodges, commander of a Special Tactics Squadron that heads to the cave at the request of the Thai government. At one point, Major Hodges has two separate teams craft plans, and then the two teams get together and take the best of both plans. This isn’t a novel strategy, but reading about it in action was revelatory for me. As was the degree to which the rescue was rehearsed and fine-tuned outside of the cave before being put into action.


Throughout the story the author reveals much about Thailand. Culture, customs, religion, geography, and government are all touched upon. 


Amid the worldwide death and despair of the pandemic, ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THAI BOYS’ SOCCER TEAM is a thrilling and uplifting tale of human cooperation and ingenuity. This is narrative nonfiction at its best.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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