Cover image for Overboard
Fama, Elizabeth.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago : Cricket Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
158 pages : maps ; 22 cm
Escaping from a sinking ferry in the waters off Sumatra, fourteen-year-old Emily fights for survival for herself and a young Indonesian boy, who draws courage from his quiet but firm Islamic faith.
Reading Level:
690 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.1 6.0 66872.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.2 11 Quiz: 32890 Guided reading level: Y.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Plunged into the dark waters off Sumatra when her ferry sinks, 14-year-old Emily fights to stay alive amid the chaos and horror of passengers drowning in the night. Striking out toward land, Emily finds a young Islamic Indonesian boy, Isman, floating in a life jacket. Hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, Emily realizes that their survival depends on her ability to keep her mind clear and her emotions in check. Testing the limits of their physical strength, she and Isman face a shark scare, a whirlpool, and other dangers. For emotional strength, Emily increasingly looks to Isman, who draws courage from his quiet but firm Islamic faith. Overboard is based on the true story of a young American woman who survived the sinking of an overloaded Indonesian ferry in January 1996. Of the more than 400 passengers aboard, only 40 people survived.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-8. When the overcrowded ferry sinks off the coast of Sumatra, Emily, 14, must stay afloat and try to swim for shore. For more than 17 hours, she applies what she learned in her lifesaving class in the U.S., treading water, creating a makeshift float, and fighting the effects of dehydration, hunger, exposure, and exhaustion. In the background is her compelling family story. She was on the ferry because she was "sort of" running away from her do-gooder physician parents, who had dragged her from Boston to Indonesia. Most moving in her terrible ordeal is the bond she develops with a desperate nine-year-old Muslim boy, Isman, who will drown if she doesn't help him. His need enables her to go on. Like Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (1987) and other wilderness and endurance stories, the excitement here is in the physical facts of what it takes to survive. In plain style, first-novelist Fama conveys the elemental struggle and shows how Emily finds strength she didn't know she had. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this first novel based on a 1996 ferry accident off the coast of Sumatra, Emily, a 14-year-old American living in Indonesia with her doctor parents, boards an overcrowded, tilting ferry (without her parents' knowledge) after her uncle invites her to visit him on a nearby island. As the ship lists to "an unnatural angle," the captain distributes life vests. Emily hands hers to a younger boy who is trying to hang on to the railing. This heroic act seems uncharacteristic of the protagonist who, up to this point, has been unhelpful and rude to her parents and their charges. The girl then becomes trapped in the life-vest locker, which immediately fills with water. "The next thing she remembered was being near the surface, choking, searching for air, and then vomiting. How could she be sick in the water without holding on to anything? It was a joke; she was heaving and drowning at the same time." Such muddled, cumbersome prose weighs down the chronicle of Emily's nightlong struggle to survive in the sea, heavily reliant upon coincidences. During the course of the evening, she hooks up with the boy to whom she gave her life vest, a Muslim child who explains some of the tenets of his faith as they bob along in the water. Ages 12-15. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8 With blond hair, green eyes, and pale skin, Emily, 14, feels like an outsider on the island of Sumatra. Her parents have traveled to Indonesia as medical personnel with a deep desire to help, but she desperately wants to return to Boston. She rejoices when she hears from her exploring uncle who is on a nearby island and, without gaining her parents' permission, she boards the ferry to visit him. A happy reunion is not to be, however, as the overloaded and aging boat sinks. Long hours elapse slowly as Emily attempts to escape the horror of drowning passengers and swim to land. She finds an Indonesian boy, Isman, floating in a life jacket, and they draw strength from one another. Their relationship provides the focus for this adventure story. Isman's quiet yet strong Islamic faith bolsters Emily's flagging courage as well as frustrates her when he struggles over the decision to eat something during a day of Ramadan. Each moment brings the two new problems-cold, hunger, sharks, a whirlpool, fear-and actively holds readers' interest. An author's note describes the inspiration for this unique book-a real ferry accident off the coast of Sumatra in 1996 when only 40 of the 400 passengers survived. -Crystal Faris, Nassau Library System, Uniondale, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Emily might have been the only fourteen-year-old in the world who could change the sheets of a hospital bed with the patient still in it. She had done it more times than she cared to remember. "I didn't come to help," Emily said, refusing the stack of folded sheets that her mother held out to her. "I just came to see if you and James would be home for dinner tonight." She glanced around the clinic. "Where's your loyal candy striper? Madjid is good at beds now." "We don't use the term 'candy striper' here, Em. I wish you'd be polite to him, at least." Olivia wiped sweat from her forehead onto the sleeve of her white lab coat. "Anyway, Madjid's looking for a repairman to fix the air conditioner." "What's the point? It never works," Emily griped. The humidity was stifling, as it always was in Indonesia, and today there was an odor in the clinic that pinched at the back of her nose and throat. She breathed through her mouth to dull the scent. "Please, Emily . . . the bed? I'd really appreciate it . . ." Olivia said, holding up the sheets again. Emily took them from her with a sigh. Olivia nodded toward a cot with a sleeping boy no more than five years old. "It's Yaso's bed, over there. Thanks, honey." The boy's gown had fallen to the side, and Emily saw that his leg was in a cast up to the hip. Farther down the row of beds there was a dark, still little girl with an intravenous tube snaking from her arm up a pole to a plastic bag filled with clear fluid. She was glistening with sweat. "Little Rabina's having a rough day," Olivia said over her shoulder. "Otherwise I'd do it." Little Rabina, Emily grumbled to herself. Rabina didn't seem all that bad today. Olivia had been hovering over the seven-year-old for the past two weeks, ever since the girl's parents had brought her in with a ruptured appendix. The family was from a small village twenty miles south and they had allowed the dukun, the local healer, to use his folk potions and prayers to treat her, but she never got well. Emily's father, James, had saved Rabina's life with an emergency operation. Still, Emily thought, Rabina was being stubbornly slow about her recovery. Emily went over to the cot that needed changing. When she got there she discovered the source of the odor in the clinic. The boy had relieved himself on the bed in his sleep, and his urine had the acrid smell of antibiotics. His gown was soaked in the front. The sheets and pad were soaked beneath him. "Great," she said with a huff. She put the sheets on a chair next to his cot and went to the nurses' station to get a new gown and a wet washcloth. The trick to making a bed with the patient still in it is to make it one half at a time. Emily turned the little boy onto his right side and untucked the old sheet and pad, rolling them up against his back. Then she made half of the bed with the new sheet and pad, neatly rolling up the excess and laying it alongside the roll of dirty linens. Next she turned him onto his left side so that he was lying on the clean sheets, slid the dirty linens off the bed, unrolled the second half of the clean linens, and made the rest of the bed. Finally, after being turned twice, Yaso began to stir. Emily eased him onto his back and straightened the damp gown in front, knowing that even the youngest patients could be modest. Yaso opened his eyes, so she tried to raise the head of the cot a notch or two, but the mechanism was stuck. She yanked it hard, and it slid into place with a jolt. "You're very strong," Yaso said in his own language. "Strong, like a bull." She wrinkled her nose at him and made a snorting noise. Yaso laughed and tried to snort like a bull himself. "You are good," she smiled. "How old are you?" he asked. "I am one hundred years old," she said, sitting in the chair with a sigh. Emily had found that Indonesians often asked personal questions, and it wasn't rude to give nonsensical, evasive answers. "You speak Bahasa Indonesia well," the boy said. "That is because I have lived here for too long." "I know you. You're the doctors' daughter. You help in the clinic, like that boy, Madjid." "Sometimes." He looked into Emily's clear, green-gray eyes. "Ooh, your eyes! You have glass eyes!" Emily shook her head "no" and handed him the washcloth. He accepted it, but continued to stare into her eyes. Emily looked away. She bent down to escape his gaze, wrapped his old sheets into a ball, and put them on the floor next to her chair. Then she held up the new gown for him to see. He looked at it blankly, but was riveted back to her eyes. "Please wash yourself and put this on," she said. She frowned, looking at his cast. "Will you need help washing and dressing?" "I want to try by myself first," he said. Emily said, "I will be here if you need me." She put the folded gown next to him on the bed and turned her chair away to give him privacy. While she waited she reached out her long legs and pointed her toes in her sandals. She clasped her hands together, rounded her shoulders, and cracked her knuckles in front of her. Her underarms felt moist, and two wet marks stained her blouse, so she quickly brought her hands down onto her lap. She was wearing a long floral scarf around her head, a kerudung, and it itched in the heat, but it covered her blond hair and helped avoid endless conversation on that subject. Emily was hungry, and it made her feel more hollow than ever. She looked down the row of cots at her mother, head bowed, eyes closed, listening through a stethoscope to the bony chest of Rabina. Olivia's blond hair slipped from behind her ears and fell in front of her face. Soon, Emily decided hazily, the stethoscope would become a permanent physical link between Olivia and Rabina, like an inorganic umbilical cord. "I'm ready," the boy said. Emily turned her chair back. He had put the gown on but was unable to fasten the ties. "You're so big!" he said, as she stood over him to reach his back. "Yes, I know." "And so white!" She looked at her pale hands tying the back of the gown closed. The veins branched up from her knuckles to her wrists, like blue rivers. Actually, I'm transparent, she thought with disgust. "Yes," she said out loud, "very white." Excerpted from Overboard by Elizabeth Fama All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.