Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Terror at Bottle Creek

Terror at Bottle Creek

Watt Key
Fiction
For ages 12 to 14
Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2016   ISBN: 978-0374374303

Until recently, thirteen year old Cort was happy with his life. He was content to live on a houseboat, and loved spending time with his father, Tom. Tom works as a river guide for hunters who are eager to catch alligators and wild pigs in the local swamps. Then Cort’s mother left them six months ago. Cort actually thinks that they are better off without her. She was never content with her lot in life, never did any work, and spent her days complaining. The problem is that Tom is pining for his wife, hanging around outside her house, and neglecting both his work and his son. What used to feel right for Cort, now feels empty and lonely.

Fall has arrived in coastal Alabama and though colder weather is not far off, it is still hurricane season and a big hurricane is on its way. Cort knows that he and his father should move their houseboat upriver where it will be more secure, but Tom is not taking the hurricane seriously and by the time he finally turns up, the weather has already started deteriorating.

Cort and his father are lucky enough to have a dear friend, Mrs. Stoval, who is willing to let them store their possessions in her garage. They move as much as they can out of the houseboat (including Cort’s dog Catfish), tie the boat down, and prepare to wait out the storm in Mrs. Stovall’s home. Tom goes out to get some ice and when he does not come home Cort knows that he has gone to his wife’s house. Again. Mrs. Stovall decides to go and get him and now Cort and Mrs. Stovall’s two children, Liza and little Francie, are alone in the house.

After about an hour of waiting, Mrs. Stovall calls to say that she and Tom cannot get back because the bridge is under water. Cort and the two girls will have to get through the storm on their own. Cort is deeply hurt that his father left him behind in favor of the wife and mother who walked out on them. His mother is a “grown-up” who can take care of herself. Cort, Liza and Francie are kids who shouldn’t have to cope with a hurricane on their own. Cort’s dad should never have left.

The storm grows in power and the two teenagers and five year old Francie cannot sleep. Francie decides that she wants to see Catfish, who is tied up in the garage. Francie unties Catfish, putting his leash around her wrist, which is when Catfish takes off. He does not want to be in a garage. He wants to go back to his houseboat home, and that’s where he goes, dragging Francie with him.

By the time Cort and Liza get to the landing looking for Francie, the houseboat is gone, swept away by the angry river. They chase after the houseboat in Tom’s river guide boat and manage to find and board it. Francie and Catfish are terrified but all right, but the houseboat is not going to last long, and so the children abandon it and end up wading through the swamp.

The water level is rising and they are surrounded by terrified and desperate animals, including alligators and wild hogs. They need to find high ground and the only high ground there is nearby are the Indian mounds near Bottle Creek.

The children manage to navigate the excruciating mile and half journey through the flooded swap and they dare to hope that safety will soon be theirs. When they get to the mounds they discover that the swamp animals are also taking refuge there. The mounds are overrun with creatures off all kinds, including wild hogs, which are more dangerous than alligators. To get away from the wild hogs the children take refuge in a juniper tree, only to discover that all the trees in the area are dripping with cottonmouth snakes. With angry hogs on the ground below them blocking their way, and snakes all around them, their situation seems hopeless.

It is hard to know how we would deal with a situation like the one Cort finds himself in. Though he is not yet an adult, he is given a very adult responsibility and he does his best to rise to the challenge. Readers will find it hard to set this book down once they start reading. They will feel compelled to find out what happens next.

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