This is Bill Bunn’s latest YA novel. At times, the best way to get an idea about a book is to compare it to others which are better known. In this case, Out on the Drink reminds me of Hatchett, by Gary Paulsen. Both are survival tales with engrossing minute details of a marooned boy trying to stay alive.
Both are well written, although I would say that Hatchett has a choppier feel as it comes from the narration of a less-literate teen-aged boy; Bunn’s protagonist, although similar in age, narrates at a slightly higher literacy level. As a result, there is better narrative flow.
Another novel that comes to mind when reading this novel is The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson; both are “problem” novels. In Hopkin’s novel, the protagonist is in foster care; in Bunn’s novel, Sean is a candidate for foster care due to his family problems. Here is the blurb about Out on the Drink from the Chapter’s site:
Sean Bulger is a 16-year-old alcoholic from Newfoundland. His life revolves around avoiding his abusive stepfather and sneaking booze wherever and whenever he can. One of his party crashes goes wrong when a group of fellow teens dare him to check out a condemned Russian cruise ship.
Stone drunk and obsessed with the promise of more alcohol, Sean scrambles aboard the ship, and blacks out when the boat is towed from harbour–and soon he’s adrift in a ruined ship, looking for fresh water, food, navigational tools, or anything that will help him survive.
This book is based on an actual ship off the east coast of Canada.
Bill Bunn is one of those writers that someone will discover and then have to read all their back novels. His work is consistently good and smacks of all that is right and wrong with boyhood, without getting into the clumsy “coming of age” stuff.
Whenever possible, Canadian schools should look to replace assigned novels with excellent novels written by Canadian authors, whether they are published in Canada or elsewhere.
YA age 11+