The spectacular, true story of a scrappy teenager from New York’s Lower East Side who stowed away on the Roaring Twenties’ most remarkable feat of science and daring: an expedition to Antarctica.
It was 1928: a time of illicit booze, of Gatsby and Babe Ruth, of freewheeling fun. The Great War was over and American optimism was higher than the stock market. What better moment to launch an expedition to Antarctica, the planet’s final frontier? There wouldn’t be another encounter with an unknown this magnificent until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.
Everyone wanted in on the adventure. Rockefellers and Vanderbilts begged to be taken along as mess boys, and newspapers across the globe covered the planning’s every stage. And then, the night before the expedition’s flagship set off, Billy Gawronski—a mischievous, first-generation New York City high schooler desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business—jumped into the Hudson River and snuck aboard.
Could he get away with it?
From the soda shops of New York’s Lower East Side to the dance halls of sultry Francophone Tahiti, all the way to Antarctica’s blinding white and deadly freeze, Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway takes you on the unforgettable voyage of a plucky young stowaway who became a Jazz Age celebrity, a mascot for an up-by-your bootstraps era.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Okay, to start off with, I need to say that I did not realize that this was non-fiction. I thought it was historical fiction, so my expectations were flawed. I was expecting more intimate knowledge of Billy’s life, not just the facts. I was wrong. 😦
I will say that even when depicting Billy solely with the facts available about him, he comes off as quite a character! I mean, he completely went against his parents in a time that that wasn’t quite so common, he swam through the Hudson River (ew) to sneak onto the expedition ship with no supplies, got kicked off, and snuck back on not once, but two more times, and when given the chance, he worked his butt off for the chance to go on an unimaginable adventure.
I really loved all of the information about the era – what it was like for Polish immigrants in NYC, the economy and how it changed as the depression hit, and what had already happened in regards to Antarctic exploration, as well as what other explorers were doing concurrently to Byrd. I think one of my favorite thing about historical fiction books is when they do present so much historical fact and then give a story to it. Even though this story is non-fiction (did I mention that?), it did much the same thing.
Aside from all the background information, I really did enjoy learning about Byrd’s expedition to be the first people to winter in Antarctica and fly over the south pole. I was the last unexplored frontier on Earth, and I fully understand why people went so crazy over it. It would have been amazing to be one of the few lucky ones chosen to be part of it, to be made part of history, to do something that literally no one else has ever done.
Have you read The Stowaway? What did you think? What is your favorite adventure story, fiction or non?