32 pages • 1 hour readPeg Kehret
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Escaping the Giant Wave is a middle-grade disaster thriller by American author Peg Kehret. The story follows 13-year-old Kyle Davidson and his little sister, BeeBee Davidson, as they struggle to survive an earthquake, a fire, and a tsunami. Kyle battles to save BeeBee and himself, and he learns to overcome his own fears. Escaping the Giant Wave is one of six novels centered around natural disasters by Kehret and was published in 2003. Kehret has received the PEN Center Award in Children’s Literature, the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and more.
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Kyle is finishing sixth grade and begins his story thinking about his last assignment––his teacher has asked his class to make a list of their summer goals. Kyle describes his goals for the summer: learn to pop a wheelie on his bike, improve his batting average, get his parents to increase his allowance, and make Daren Hazelton leave him alone. Big and strong, Daren loves to pick a fight and has bullied Kyle since kindergarten. Since he is skinny and much smaller than Daren, Kyle avoids confrontation at all costs. Kyle prides himself for not telling anyone about the bullying, but lately, he’s felt like a coward.
Kyle lives in Kansas with his mother and father and eight-year-old sister, BeeBee. When his father wins the Salesman of the Year award from the real estate firm he works for, Kyle is thrilled. The prize is an all-expenses paid family trip to the Oregon coast. Kyle has never flown on a plane before or seen the Pacific Ocean and is excited to experience both. When the family arrives, they find that the Frontier Lodge, the hotel they planned to stay in, is still under construction, and they must stay in the older Totem Pole Inn across the street. Kyle discovers that Daren’s mother works for the same real estate company as his parents and has also won an award. Unfortunately, Daren and his parents are staying at the same hotel.
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During a family walk on the beach, BeeBee collects seashells to sell back home, and Kyle looks for shells and bits of wood to create a sea picture. The family notices a sign on the beach warning that they are in a tsunami area. Kyle’s father tells them in the event of a hurricane or tsunami, they should move inland and uphill as far as possible. Kyle reflects that in his home state of Kansas, natural disasters include tornadoes rather than tsunamis. After going to retrieve a camera to take a picture of his sea picture, Daren steps on the picture and ruins it.
Kyle’s parents trust him to babysit BeeBee while they attend an awards ceremony aboard a yacht named the Elegant Empress, and they are left alone in their hotel room. They caution Kyle and BeeBee to stay in the room. An earthquake strikes the area, and Kyle remembers a report on tsunamis that he heard at school: big waves often strike the coastline after earthquakes. He worries whether to follow his father’s directions to stay in the room or to leave the hotel and head for higher ground. The earthquake, however, ruptures a natural gas line, setting the hotel on fire. Kyle and BeeBee cover their faces with wet towels and flee the hotel. On their way out, Kyle trips over the body of Daren, sprawled in the hallway. Kyle drags Daren downstairs to safety. When Daren wakes, he denies that Kyle helped him escape and runs from the fire without helping Kyle and BeeBee.
After escaping the fire, Daren thinks the hotel fire will spread to the forest, and they will be safer on the beach, near the water. He tells Kyle that he would deny that Kyle saved his life if Kyle told anyone at school. Kyle cannot convince Daren to go uphill into the woods with him and BeeBee. Daren goes down to the water to watch for a tsunami. Kyle and BeeBee trek to the top of a mountain where they meet an elderly couple sitting on a bench. Norm and Josie, along with their dog, Pansy, go there when they hear a tsunami warning.
Down on the beach, a group of people is having a bonfire and counting down the time to 5:30pm, when a giant wave is predicted to hit. The locals ignore the warnings due to many false alarms. Daren finally realizes his danger when someone shouts that a killer wave is coming. He runs, and a wave swallows up the people on the beach.
On the hillside, Kyle, BeeBee, Norm, Josie, and Pansy watch as the first wave destroys the shore below. Norm urges them to go farther inland in case there is a larger second wave. They begin to run, but Norm and Josie stop, too tired to run farther. Kyle and BeeBee continue onward, taking shelter behind a tree. Pansy finds them in the night and the two hold Pansy between them to keep the dog safe during the second tsunami wave.
The next day, Kyle and BeeBee head down the mountain, and Pansy finds Josie’s handkerchief. At the shore, they see Daren in an emergency tent and Kyle stands up to Daren’s bullying. Daren was caught by the first wave and dropped on top of the hotel’s elevator shaft, where he remained safe for the rest of the tsunami. They also see Norm. He describes how he and Josie climbed a tree, but Josie could not hold on and was swept away. Kyle and BeeBee reunite with their parents, who safely rode out the tsunami onboard the yacht.
Kyle realizes that he no longer fears Daren: his bully has lost power over him. Kyle achieves two of his summer goals as his parents increase his allowance and Daren leaves him alone. At the end of the novel, Kyle is given the assignment to write about his summer vacation.
By Peg Kehret
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