Plot summary: Aremis Slake is fed up with life above ground, so he runs away from home and begins living in a small abandoned room located off a subway tunnel. Slake sells used newspapers that he finds on the subway cars and makes a little bit of money, enough to buy meals at a local diner. He begins working at the diner, and finds that various people he encounters show him compassion. He uses objects he finds in the subway to decorate his “home.” A parallel story exists with Willis Joe Whinny, a subway conductor who is dissatisfied with his life. When the two meet, their lives change forever.
Review: Slake’s Limbo is a survival story different from others written for young adults. Instead of facing off against nature and the elements, Slake must survive in the underground world of the subway. Subways are often mysterious, with their unending black tunnels. Slake runs away to this world of darkness, and manages to create a home for himself. Young readers will enjoy his ability to survive in, and even decorate, his underground home in the subway wall. There is something inspiring about this mistreated boy being able to find the compassion he was missing at home from strangers. The character of Willis Joe Whinny is also very interesting. Like Slake, he wants to run away from the life he didn’t have planned for himself. In the end, the two characters do meet and change each other, making for a satisfying conclusion. Tweens, especially boys, will be engaged by this story.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6-9
Similar titles: Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
Personal thoughts: I read this book as a sixth-grader and was excited to pick it up again fifteen years later. I remember finding it interesting as a tween, and of having to create a diorama of Slake’s “home.” What I didn’t remember, however, was what a wonderful book this is. I love survival stories, and this is one of the best for young adults. I have always had a fascination with the subway, and I think that this book is responsible for that as well. I would recommend this title to tweens, especially boys.
Themes: Independence, running away, survival, compassion.
Awards/Reviews: ALA Best Books for Young Adults Winner and Horn Book Fanfare Best Book Award Winner.
Series Information: N/A
Aremis Slake – A teenage boy who runs away from his unhappy home and begins living in a room in the walls of the subway. He uses his wits to survive and finds compassion from those he encounters in the subway.
Willis Joe Whinny – A subway train conductor who is dissatisfied with his life.
Annotation: After running away from his unhappy life above ground, Slake makes a home for himself in an abandoned room adjacent to a subway tunnel.