This review is also available on my blog, Read Till Dawn.
This is a really hard book to review.
I can’t analyze the characters, or question the plot, or take note of the writing style. I can’t do any of that because this isn’t a fictional novel. Everything in Dive! is true, which makes it a thousand times harder for me to critique.
Did I enjoy reading it? Sort of. It is a book about submariners in WWII, you know. So many people died in the war–and the casualty rates for men serving aboard submarines was way higher than for those in any other service. It’s really depressing to read about all these men on board the ships, living their strange claustrophobic lives deep under water and fighting to protect the country they loved. About half of the book is actual firsthand quotes from submariners; the tragedy is that the book features accounts from so few men. There were several times when I went “ooh, why don’t we have a firsthand account from XYZ’s point of view?” But then a chapter or two later Hopkinson would say “on its next patrol, his submarine was sunk and everyone aboard died.” That really put a downer on, well, everything.
Dive! was a very good book, though. Amazing, really, from a historical perspective. As I said before, the text is about half made up of direct quotes from men who actually served in the submarines and lived through the events that made history. The other half of the text, then, is Hopkinson’s own descriptions of people and events that couldn’t be described firsthand. Interspersed throughout the regular narrative are also inserts ranging in length from a single paragraph to two-page entries, discussing everything from the way attack strategies changed after Pearl Harbor to opportunities for African American submariners during the war to a detailed description of the logistics involved in having an ice cream maker installed aboard the USS Trigger. There’s also a plethora of black-and-white pictures, which are absolutely breathtaking to look at. The images are both fascinating and horrible, full of grinning captains, relaxing submariners, sinking ships, and slim metal ships. Fascinating, because we get such an intimate look at what life was like for the submariners; horrible, because we find out over the course of the book that oh-so-many of those grinning young men died in the very metal ships in which they were photographed.
The narrative focuses on military tactics, but it also dives (pun intended!) into all the various other ways submarines were used during the war. My favorite side topics were refugees (there’s a fascinating chapter about Lucy Wilson, a nurse evacuated from Corregidor) and pets (so many adorable dogs were adopted by the crews of the different ships!). Scattered throughout the book are tips for researching deeper into specific topics, links to sites and museums connected to submarines, etc. The end of each “part”–a part being one year of the war–there’s a handy timeline that lists out all the main events that happened in the year that has just been covered. In the end section there’s also a plethora of resources that includes a list of all the submarines lost throughout the war, a “Facts and Figures” sheet, a roster of all the people (and animals) discussed throughout the book, a diagram of a submarine, a list of the most successful submarines, a glossary, extra resource links . . . yikes, my fingers are getting tired just listing these all out! Let’s see, almost done: a (very robust) bibliography, about eighteen pages of source notes (like I said, there were a lot of firsthand quotes in this book!), and an index.
Whew. As you can probably tell, this book is designed to be the perfect starting point for studying all things submarine. And as you can probably also tell, it succeeds with flying colors. Dive! is an amazing resource, full of everything I could have ever wanted to know about submarines during WWII and then some. For those who want more, it’s also packed full of advice and resources for doing so. In my book, that earns it an extra gold star. This is a serious research book, but it’s still completely approachable as a middle grade read–and, in the midst of some pretty horrible stuff, it still managed to be downright hilarious from time to time. All in all, it’s an amazing read and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it. If you’re interested at all in WWII submarines, then you absolutely need to check it out!
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for review.