Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 15
- Grade: 7 to 10
- Reading age: 12 to 15
2020 Red Maple Fiction Award — Shortlisted • 2021 Chocolate Lily Award — Winner
“The fast-paced and suspenseful plot will keep readers rooting for Owen, Arturo, and the others.” —School Library Journal
Owen’s plan to sail away on an adventure puts him on a collision course with some very dangerous people.
When Owen’s parents leave him on his own for a week, the sixteen-year-old gets bored and hatches a crazy idea: sneak onto the yacht that’s visiting the sleepy Pacific Coast island where he lives and stow away on an adventure! Once on board the vessel, Owen quickly finds this is anything but innocent fun. The ship is packed with teenagers from Central America, and it looks like Owen has stumbled into a people-smuggling operation.
Complications pile up and as things head from bad to worse, a haunting incident from Owen’s past tightens its grip on him. There’s only one way to break free and make his way home. Owen and the first mate, Arturo — a former street kid — must work together to commandeer the boat and win the trust of those on board. But who’s friend and who’s foe in the shifting tides?
About the author
Award-winning author Pam Withers has written numerous bestselling sports and adventure books for teens, including four for Orca Book Publishers: Camp Wild, Breathless, Daredevil Club and . Pam is a former outdoor guide, journalist, editor and associate publisher. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and tours North America extensively. For more information, visit www.pamwithers.com.
- Winner, B.C. Chocolate Lily Award
- Short-listed, OLA Red Maple Fiction Award
Excerpt: Stowaway (by (author) Pam Withers)
The sound of gunshots rips my eyes open and sends rats scurrying across the abandoned warehouse.
“Try in there!” Men’s shouts make me spring up from the dirt-coated concrete floor, where the kids and I have been dozing in a corner.
Fifteen pairs of sleep-deprived eyes widen and turn to me in the near-total darkness. Small, grimy hands reach out to grip my arm, but no one makes a sound. Not so much as a whimper. I have trained them well.
“Follow me!” I whisper. I grab my backpack and roll through the hole in the crumbling brick wall beside us. The night’s fresh, salty air fills my lungs as I get to my feet and head for the bay. I twist around once, just in time to see the last child crawl through the gap seconds before the watchmen’s powerful flashlights shine there. In the pre-dawn stillness, the soft pounding of the youngsters’ feet behind me gives wind to my own.
Not a night passes that I don’t have a backup plan. It is why my contingent of street kids and I are still alive. Tonight, I’m aiming for the empty Dumpster beside the shipyard, no more than a two-minute sprint away.
But I worry about them all fitting inside. The size of my group has become unwieldy.
“Too many of us,” pants Freddy, my second-in-command, not for the first time.
At eleven, he’s the oldest and most street-savvy of them all — ready, we’ve agreed, to take command of his own pack soon. My group is dangerously large because, unlike other teen leaders, I don’t beat my charges. And when bruised, battered, homeless boys show up after defecting from other clans, I don’t have the heart to turn away these mirror images of my six-year-old self.
“Take half the boys tomorrow,” I tell Freddy as we reach the Dumpster. “Or all if I get whacked.”
His lips curl into a grim smile.
The slight squeak as I lift the Dumpster lid is drowned out by our pursuers’ continued shouts. I cup my hands to hoist the youngest boy up by his foot, like I once saw a rich man lifting his child onto a saddled pony. With the older boys helping, they’re soon all up and over. Freddy throws himself on top of the squirming pile, shushing them as I lower the lid.
“Get him!” a guard shouts, and I know it is time to dart away, to direct the armed posse elsewhere, like a mother bird with a faked limp.
Crack! Crack! Heart flipping and ears ringing with the noise of bullets whizzing over my head, I leap onto the deck of a docked yacht and scurry to the far side. They won’t risk damaging it by shooting at me now.
I grab a life ring and toss it, hoping the splash will make the men think I have leapt into the bay. But when I lift my head, I’m blinded by lights flaring inside the yacht. Shit.
A shadow stomping up the companionway turns into a large man who grabs me by an ear. The searing pain drops me to my knees. He’s going to tear it right off.
“That’s him!” a voice on shore behind a spotlight shouts as my captor pulls me into view.
“The rest are in the Dumpster!” comes a victorious cry farther back. “Fish in a barrel, boys!”
Heart-piercing screams make me sink the rest of the way to the deck. As I lie limp and numb, the faces of the kids I have been protecting for months swim before me.
“Don’t know who you’re chasing.” The big man’s deep voice addresses the guard on shore. “But this here boy is with me. My first mate. Nothing to do with whoever you just got. But good on you for keeping the streetkid population down. Have a nice evening.”
The book should be appealing to young readers who are interested in fast paced action and does manage to shed light on the dark world of illegal immigration.
Not only socially and politically relevant, it is an action-packed page turner as well. Readers will be engaged with Owen and Arturo’s stories from the get-go.
Susin Nielsen, author of Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, and more
The fast-paced and suspenseful plot will keep readers rooting for Owen, Arturo, and the others.
School Library Journal
An accomplished and riveting novel, beautifully written and researched by a writer secure in her craft.
Irene Watts, BC BookLook
A simply riveting and original adventure … Stowaway will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both school and community library YA fiction collections.
Midwest Book Review