If We Survive


Author: Andrew Klavan

Publication: 2012, Thomas Nelson

Pages: 339

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Will Peterson and a group of friends travelled to Central America on a mission trip to help rebuild a school.  While they are there, a revolution sweeps across the country, taking over with lightning speed.  And Americans are one of the first targets for execution.  To survive, they’ll need the help of a mysterious ex-soldier as they run for the border, battling everything from gun toting revolutionaries to deadly snakes and raging rivers along the way. 

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Will’s life hangs in the balance on a fairly regular basis, and while there’s great action whenever this happens, what really makes these life and death scenes stand out is the taut mix of fear, acceptance and straight-up heroism that Will brings to the mix, starting with the absolutely riveting scene where he his friends are being led to their execution.  As a reader, you’re forced to contemplate how you might react in a similar situation – and to wonder how in the world Klavan managed to write about it with such clarity.

One of the other real standouts in this book is the vivid setting.  Whether it’s the dusty village where the story kicks off, the humid jungle, or the crumbling capital city, Klavan does a masterful job of bringing the fictional Central American country of Costa Verdes to life.  As they flee through the jungle, it’s almost as though you can feel the thick air making your shirt cling to your back and smell the rotting vegetation.

What I Liked the Least: Three things.  First, Will and his friends are far too reliant on Palmer Dunn, the ex-soldier who leads them to safety.  Palmer has the kind of skills that mean he was probably once in Special Forces – though we never know for sure.  He can kill fast and efficiently and he knows the country – the back trails, who to trust and where to hide.  Will and his friends would have been dead several times over were it not for Palmer.  Problem is, Palmer’s not a teen and this is a YA novel.  As the main character, Will should be in the lead – saving the day or losing it.  And because Palmer is there, and he’s so damn good, it was hard to ever truly worry about their safety and whether or not they’d make it.

Second, I picked this up just looking for a good action novel with an interesting setting.  And I got all that. But I also got a lot more God than I’d bargained for.  Will and his companions are on a mission trip, so it makes sense.  But I’ve never read another action novel where there were quite so many references to God, prayer, and heaven.  I’m not saying you need to be a devout Christian to enjoy the book, but the emphasis on religion came as a definite surprise.

Finally, while Will does occasionally try to see the rebels shooting at him as good people who just signed up to try and help their families, and his friend Jim spends much of the book arguing how just the rebels are (only to be proven wrong at every turn), Klavan never give us a single good rebel.  They all behave like either simple thugs or power hungry psycho killers.  I realize that the rebels need to be the enemy in order for the book to work, but the way they’re portrayed felt utterly stereotypical and I think the book could have benefitted from having even one rebel who was genuinely interested in social justice and helping their people.

How Good was the Action? As with The Last Thing I Remember, Klavan knows how to write a killer action scene.  Whether it’s a shoot-out or battling a deadly crocodile, the scenes crackle with energy, and strike just the right balance between emotional power and blow-by-blow detail.  Great stuff.

How Engaging was the Story? It pulls you in from the first moment – letting you know something awful is just about to happen and then drawing back and allowing you to watch it unfold as you get to know the main characters.  From there, Kalavan takes you from one near scrape with death to the next, interspersed with moments of personal reflection and growth that nicely build your attachment to the characters Klavan keeps trying to kill off.  Well done and very hard to put down.

Overall Assessment: A little too religious for my taste, but otherwise an excellent tale of war, revolution, and survival, with plenty of rocking action sequences, heroism, loss, and near scrapes with death.

Profanity: Minimal to none.

Sex: A chaste kiss.

Violence: It’s not at all gratuitous, but yes, there’s plenty of violence here.  People are executed, beaten, and shot at.  Some die.  And Will is forced to kill in order to survive.  This is a war, and there are plenty of victims.  But while the violence felt realistic, it was never unnecessarily bloody.



Speak Your Mind