Have you ever read a book that was so intense you forgot you were reading a book at all because you were so involved in the story? That is what happened to me when I read Running Out of Time by Cathryn Free. I left my cozy book corner entirely and became immersed in the sea off the coast of Florida right alongside the main characters, Marah and Brock. This story, which is about scuba diving, will take you on an underwater adventure that starts out uncomplicatedly, but by page 7, will find our principal characters (and you along with them) in both deep water and deep trouble! Can you handle this deep descent into the reading zone? You sure can! Suit up and jump in!
The story begins on a boat where Marah and Brock are about to take a practice dive with four other dive students. Diving is a serious sport, and as teacher Mr. Jay explains the parameters of the dive, Marah reviews the technical responsibilities of using scuba gear. “Remember your training. Be smart,” urges Mr. Jay and into the water they go. There aren’t many illustrations in this book, but the ones that are included (by Bistra Masseva) help set the watery, wavy scene. It is amazing how small dashes of a paintbrush turn into a school of fish on paper!
Once underwater, Marah cautiously enjoys her dive, always aware of scuba diving protocol. I felt like I was cautiously proceeding with her! When she drops her camera after a sudden whoosh of current, I felt the same surprise and momentary unease she did. What I love about Cathryn Free’s telling of this story is that as the reader, I feel both the thrill of trying something new with Marah, and yet I also feel, just like Marah, the strange new limitations and anxieties that come along with it. This is especially clear as the action in the story begins to rise. Words like looming, exploded, and flurry have the author’s desired effect: We are as jittery as Marah when she realizes Brock is in trouble and isn’t sure what to do. Separated from the group, awash in the weight of responsibility, will Marah remember Mr. Jay’s advice to remember her training and be smart? Will the ominous title of this story come to fruition? YIKES, why is my own heart beating so furiously? Will I survive this story? Because it feels like I might be having a heart attack! Ultimately, Cathryn Free must resolve this high tension, and most importantly, in a satisfactory way for her readers. But will she? Can she? Read the book and find out.
I recommend this book for anyone who loves living vicariously through a book’s characters and also for any reluctant reader because it really draws you in … kind of like a riptide! Scuba experience not required! In the classroom, this story would be a great candidate for using PVB’s Shared Retelling Cards (pictured here) found in the Comprehension Box Set.