Shark Bite Summary
by Todd Strasser

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Shark Bite Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

At a first glance, Shark Bite seems to be aimed at the interests of younger or preadolescent readers. Both the themes and the plot seem to underpin such a first impression of the novel. Moreover, even the title of the book appears to support the idea that the novel is intended for such a reading group. A more careful exploration of this text, however, reveals its more complex nature. The story outlined before the reader turns out to be constructed on several levels which invite thought-provoking associations or images that go beyond the stereotypical characteristics of a mere adventure story.

On the one hand, the plot is largely built with the well-known ingredients of an adventure story: exotic places, dangerous situations, fast-paced action. When Ian and Talia first agree to join Stuart and his father on a sailboat trip to Cancun they exactly envision these ideas. Embarking from an exclusive yacht club dock on an even more exclusive boat they believe that they are on a fun voyage across the Gulf of Mexico. Although there have been some tensions between Ian and Stuart, two of the three youngsters, they all anticipate no disturbing events. Ian, who dislikes the way Stuart is showing off his material wealth, is particularly excited about the boat trip because of his interest in sailing.

The situation changes dramatically when a severe tropical storm hits the boat in the middle of the sea. Facing this life-threatening situation, Ian, the youngest among the crew, turns out to be the most experienced and mature in handling the crisis. After Buck Green, the only adult aboard, is injured, Ian takes on the lead and skillfully manages the chaos on the boat as well as the eventual evacuation onto a raft. In contrast to Ian, the two older adolescents Talia and Stuart are frightened by this crisis to such an extent that they are not clear-headed and cannot act responsibly. When they finally have to give up the boat and settle on the raft it is Ian again who is superior in handling the new threat they have to face. As more and more sharks circle and attack the raft, he acts rationally and bravely and thus suppresses his own fears.

The three adolescents and Mr. Green are finally rescued by a helicopter in a spectacular manner, and they are taken to Brownsville, Texas. The last scene of the novel shows Ian, Talia, and Stuart in the Brownsville hospital where they had been treated for minor injuries in the emergency room. Because Stuart's father is kept in hospital for a few days, the three of them decide to find a motel and stay together in Brownsville until he is released.

Despite the action-packed plot and the rather conventional happy end, the novel, however, differs from the traditional genre of an adventure story. These differences derive from Strasser's convincing depiction of the clashing views of the adolescent protagonists at the climax of the crisis on the boat. Confronting his protagonists with an extraordinarily stressful situation, the author explores the models of response as manifested in the behavior of Ian, Talia, and Stuart. In this way he can show the diverse motives and the corresponding individual value systems that inform the protagonists' actions. Strasser problematizes these motives and describes their impact on the course of events in the text in order to raise a wide range of questions in the readers about their own beliefs and values.