Escape from the Everglades (High Water Book One)

Escape from the Everglades Tim Shoemaker

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Teen Parker Buckman barely escaped the jaws of an alligator. But to find his missing friend, he’ll need God’s help to face death in several forms.

Plot Summary

When Parker Buckman’s park ranger dad was transferred to Everglades City, it didn’t take the teen long to realize that the whole area was pretty much the sweaty armpit of America. Even with 7,800 square miles of Everglades National Park all around them, it was still just a lot of oppressively hot, swampy wetlands; deadly snakes and alligators; and a swarming scourge of mosquitoes. 

But it started growing on him. And not like a mossy growth, either.

First, he met and was befriended by a schoolmate named Wilson—half Miccosukee native and pretty much all trouble. And since his dad’s best friend had been transferred to the National Park as well, Parker’s long-time besty, Jelly, also joined he and Wilson’s merry band. (Jelly’s real name was Angelica, but, well, Angel never fit her very well.)

Together, this trio made this soggy corner of the world feel oh-so-much more special—for a while. In fact, when Wilson borrowed his uncle’s airboat—powered by a 350-cubic-inch engine that generated prop winds of almost 150 miles-per-hour—their adventures through the grassy wetlands felt almost exotic.

Of course, it wasn’t so special or exotic when Parker made a mistake one day and an 11-foot gator grabbed his arm with its razor-sharp teeth. Parker almost died. And after multiple surgeries, he was left with a severely weakened arm, tattooed with ragged scars.

Oh, and he gained a dreaded fear of everything in the swamps around him.

With his Miccosukee instincts and beliefs, Wilson has been trying to help Parker work through his feelings and fears. And Jelly has been a solid friend by his side, too. But it’s only through Parker’s faith in God that the needle has started moving into calmer parts of his personal fear-gauge.

Parker’s been praying that God would just get him out of this place. His dad even put in for a transfer to make that happen. But he’s still here. And the more he prays about it, the more he gets the feeling that a change of address might not be the only answer.

Perhaps there are other changes he must make. Other things he must do. Do bad things happen for a reason? he asks himself. Can they be used for something good?

When Jelly’s older sister Maria goes missing (was it a foolish accident? A gator attack? A kidnapping?), Parker realizes that he needs to do a few things right here, in the armpit of America. There will be choices he must make and various dangers he must stand up to before seeing all that God has in store.

And it’s looking like that gator attack won’t be the only time he faces down death.

Christian Beliefs

Parker and his parents are Christians. Parker’s faith is very important to him (just as his parents taught him it should be), and he’s mindful of the way God’s hand is working in his life (even if it’s hard to see what God’s hand is up to). The teen prays for answers and for strength in the midst of the troubles that come his way. And he prays with his dad for wisdom and protection.

In fact, as bad things begin to unfold, Parker’s dad tells him: “You keep asking God what He wants you to do, and don’t deviate from that.” He also tells his son that sometimes action is required in the midst of spiritual warfare.  Even though we trust God to “work things out for good all the way around,” that “doesn’t mean we sit on our hands,” Dad tells his son. And, indeed, we do see things that take place and indicate that God’s hand is involved in what Parker is doing.

Parker also comes to realize that running away from your fears or scary situations—or burying your head in screens and music and wishing for a different life, body or family—isn’t the most effective way to seek change. But by opening yourself and trusting God’s love and guidance, the things of your life and your attitudes about them can shift.

Parker’s grandfather gave him a keepsake that repeatedly reminds him about what it means to be a person of integrity (“doing the right thing even when he’s scared”). The teen strives to be an upright person, and he makes sure that he’s honest about his actions.

Wilson doesn’t always agree with or understand Parker’s choices—calling him a “boy scout” every time Parker takes the hard upright path. And Wilson wonders what the payoff is for his faith and belief when there always seems to be something going wrong in Parker’s life.

“It’s not about what I get, but what I become,” Parker tells his friend.

Other Belief Systems

We hear about some wetland areas being cursed. (The fact that God cursed snakes in the Bible adds to some people’s sense that these areas are cursed, since they’re heavily populated with varieties of deadly poisonous snakes.)

Some wonder if Parker himself may be cursed after he’s attacked by a gator. In the end, however, Wilson states that rather than being cursed, he is blessed by God.

Wilson puts faith in a gator-tooth necklace, believing that it would ward off attacking alligators.

Authority Roles

Parker’s mom is a journalist and often in Boston on assignment, so we don’t see much of her. But his dad is always there and ready to guide and protect his son. He holds Parker accountable and gives the teen more latitude as Parker continues to communicate with honestly and integrity. 

Parker’s dad and Jelly’s dad have been best friends since college, and are both park rangers. We see the two men go to great lengths for each other and each other’s family. Jelly’s dad is a good and loving dad. Though, he does show a hard temper when his family is threatened (threatening bodily harm to a 21-year-old who’s dating and manipulating his 17-year-old daughter, Maria.)

Mr. Kingman, the high school principal, is a strict, overly controlling man who’s not liked or respected by the school’s students. The man’s son, Clayton, is far worse. He’s manipulative, hard-edged and violent. (Though Jelly’s sister Maria is hopelessly in love with him.)

Some people lie and misuse others.

Profanity & Violence

This is no profanity or drug and alcohol use.

The story does get very violent at times, and perilous situations abound. The gator attack on Parker is described in detail, as well as the bloody and nearly deadly aftermath. Another man is attacked by a gator, too. There is a constant threat level from those deadly creatures anytime anyone enters the swampy grassland. The gators chase people and attack boats. Parker, Wilson and others arm themselves with knives, machetes, shotguns and other weapons to ward off the beasts. We also run across poisonous snakes.

Some human “beasts” can be pretty threatening and harmful, too. (People endure some physical thumpings, and some folks threaten and fire shotguns and pistols.) Jelly’s dad and Clayton come to blows. In a fit of rebellion, a teen girl drives dangerously, smashes a store window and takes risks in an alligator-infested locale.

A young woman is lost in the Everglades and her broken oar and overturned kayak are found—the opening of the book’s central mystery. People talk about a number of terrible things happening to her.

We hear the story of a mass murderer.

Sexual Content

There is some implied sexual activity between one young couple, but nothing is ever seen. There’s talk of someone “grooming” a teen girl.

Discussion Topics

At one point Parker reads Psalm 112:4-6:

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.”

How do you think those verses apply to this story? How do you think they might apply to your life?

Parker is always focused on the idea of being a person of integrity with his family, his friends and even strangers. What does that even mean? Is integrity important these days? Are you a person of integrity?

What about those times when it’s scary, or takes too much time to follow the rules or do the right thing, is it OK to bend the rules a little then?

What did Parker’s “boy scout” choices communicate to the friends around him? Were they all worth it? What about Jelly’s choices? Would you have done anything differently?

Get free discussion question for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

Tim Shoemaker’s Escape from the Everglades is definitely a well-crafted, edge-of-your-seat, swampy thriller that will appeal to a young reader’s need for adventure. And it also has the added benefit of helping readers examine integrity and bravery through the lens of a teen’s faith in God. But parents of younger readers should note that there are intense, violent and sometimes bloody moments of peril in the story mix.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose