Close to Shore (Adapted for Young People), by Michael Capuzzo

30 Apr

2003, Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-375-82231-3

Plot Summary: Close to Shore provides a look at the great white shark attacks along the New Jersey shore during the summer of 1916; four people were killed (three men, one boy) and one was maimed. Before these attacks, sharks were not widely considered harmful to humans.

Believed to have been caught up in a strong subtropic current, the young great white shark was carried from Florida to shallow waters near the New Jersey shore. Not much is known about the shark, but it is assumed that the shark was starving and sensed prey close to the shores of Beach Haven and Asbury Park – two resort areas in Southern New Jersey – and the very shallow, brackish waters in the residential area of Matawan. The shark attacked and killed four men, including two young boys, in shallow waters, leading many to scoff at the idea of a shark attack; many posited that a marlin, sea turtle, or killer whale were all more likely culprits. As more onlookers witnessed attacks, there was no hiding it any longer: sharks were killers after all. Beach goers panicked despite attempts to put wire fences in place to keep them safe and experts came in from the American Museum of Natural History to figure out what was going on. The attacks would later be fictionalized by author Peter Benchley in his now-famous novel, Jaws, made into a movie by director Steven Speilberg in 1975.

Critical Evaluation: Loaded with pictures, maps and newsclippings, Close to Shore offers a gripping account of the 1916 shark attacks on the New Jersey shore. The book is nonfiction, but the author attempts to give the reader a glimpse into the shark’s mindset as he moves through his narrative. He paints a picture of a starving beast, driven half-mad by being dragged through a current from Florida to the colder waters of New Jersey, and unable to feast on its prey by constant interruptions. He provides stories on each of the victims, allowing the reader to get to know these people and thus feel for them and their families.

The reader also sees the evolution of a theory through the eyes of scientists who first claimed that sharks were not dangerous to humans, their initial resistance to the very idea of a shark attack being responsible for the deaths in the resort towns, and finally, the understanding that yes, sharks are dangerous and will attack man. It is a solid piece of journalism.

Reviews:School Library Journal: “Capuzzo describes the shark’s quest to satiate his hunger with the flesh of humans, sometimes verging close to anthropomorphism as he builds an atmosphere of suspense about the creature, its wanderings and its means of attack. The menacing cover of a gaping shark’s mouth, the addition of black-and-white photos and newspaper clippings, and the suspenseful writing add to the accessibility of this work for young people.”

Booklist: “Capuzzo reconstructs events with a novelist’s flair and a scientist’s attention to detail, and his pacing is relentless as the story moves from cultural history and shark physiology to close-ups of the crazed, disoriented beast slicing through the water.”

Awards: – Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award

Reader’s Annotation: In 1916, a great white shark attacked and killed four people on vacation at the Jersey Shore. This is the real story of Jaws.

Author Information: Michael Capuzzo is a four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. He spent two years researching Close to Shore, and released an adult and YA copy of the book. His Facebook fan page is a copy of his Wikipedia page, and his Simon & Schuster author page does not mention Close to Shore as it was published by a different publisher. However you can sign up for author alerts on the publisher page.

Genre: Nonfiction. Subgenres: Animal attacks, animals, sharks, Victorian society.

Booktalking Ideas: At the time of the attacks, many experts did not believe a shark would attack a person. What are some reasons that would make you agree? Why wouldn’t you agree?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12+

Challenge Issues/Defense: Violence. Defense: This is a retelling of facts that occurred in 1916. The author uses news clippings and research to back up his narration.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

I am a Jaws fan; I have been since I was a child. I wanted to read the story that inspired Peter Benchley and Steven Speilberg.


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