Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Book Review: Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a new non-fiction book by Elaine Landau that chronicles the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. It’s broken into several sections that cover the explosion, stoppage of the leak, the devastating affects on sea life and local economies, and suggestions for what concerned readers can do.

Landau does an excellent job of illustrating that there were no quick, neat, or easy solutions. Stopping the leak and conducting the clean up have been “messy” jobs. And without being preachy, she suggests concrete things readers can do to prevent such disasters in the future (like writing a congressperson about exploring and investing in cleaner energy, or—closer to home—reducing the amount of energy you use to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels).
Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
by Elaine Landau
Millbrook Press, 2011

I like the multi-pronged approach of the book, viewing the story from several perspectives to get a sense of the breadth of the disaster and what it took (and continues to take) to counteract the devastation. But it makes everything feel a bit distant. I wish there was a unifying thread in Oil Spill, tying together the separate sections of the book. As it stands, it’s like a collection of interesting topical essays about the disaster.

But Oil Spill is very readable. I appreciate the list of other disastrous spills at the end of the book that contextualizes how serious the Gulf spill is. And the glossary of terms is helpful for young (and older!) readers.  I’m struck by the violence of much of the terminology used by people addressing this disaster: top kill, junk shot, dead well, etc. It’s appropriate, I guess, since it’s almost like we’re at war with the disaster. Battling. Fighting. Defending sea life (and a way of life) on the Gulf Coast.

And the book is timely. Not only because the Gulf region is still feeling the affects of the spill (and will for quite some time). But because we’re constantly reminded of the volatility of our energy sources. Wars and political upheaval in the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) affect the price of oil. An earthquake and tsunami in Japan have caused crises at nuclear facilities. These are things that all of us need to think about—even kids. Maybe specially kids. Someday today’s children will take the reins on energy use and policy. And Landau manages to present a compelling read that asks them important questions without being pessimistic or (as I said before) preachy.  It’s not an angry book. But it also doesn’t gloss over the tough stuff. Oil Spill challenges its readers to think about the real world consequences of meeting contemporary energy needs.

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