44 pages 1 hour read

Gordon Korman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2001

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Summary and Study Guide


Gordon Korman's Shipwreck (2000) is the first installment of the Island Trilogy— followed by Survival (2001) and Escape (2001). The narrative follows six troubled teens who join a month-long sea voyage in Guam aboard The Phoenix schooner under the Charting a New Course program to learn teamwork and social skills.

Korman is a prolific Canadian author of young adult and children’s fiction, having written over 100 books, selling over 35 million copies worldwide. Korman completed his BFA at New York University and currently lives with his family in Long Island.

The edition used for this study guide was published in 2001 by Scholastic, Apple Paperbacks.

Plot Summary:

Shipwreck, the first book of the Island Trilogy, introduces the main characters of the series: six adolescents who meet in Guam to begin a month-long program with Charting a New Course (CNC) aboard a schooner, The Phoenix. CNC is an intense program designed to help troubled youth learn social and cooperative skills while living and sailing on the open ocean. The only adults aboard are Captain Cascadden and his first mate, Mr. Radford.

The narrative is told primarily from the perspective of 13-year-old Luke Haggerty, periodically switching to the perspectives of siblings Will and Lyssa Greenfield, 13-year-old Charla Swann, 11-year-old Ian Sikorsky, and 14-year-old J. J. Lane. Luke was wrongly accused of hiding a gun in his school locker, and the judge gave him the choice of joining the CNC program or going to a juvenile detention center. Will is Lyssa’s older brother; they are in CNC because their last sibling fight landed them both in the hospital. Charla excels in multiple sports, including gymnastics, swimming, and diving, but she had a psychological crisis caused by excessive pressure from her father, who saw her athletic abilities as their ticket out of poverty. Instead, Charla shut down, and medical professionals put Charla in the CNC program to help her recover. Ian is simply guilty of watching too much TV. His parents enrolled him in CNC to encourage him to learn more social skills. J.J. is the arrogant son of a famous movie-star. J.J. committed multiple crimes, such as shoplifting on Rodeo Drive and riding his father’s Harley through an art gallery window. Instead of being charged, his father enrolled J.J. in the CNC course. None of the adolescents want to be there.

The kids learn to sail and work on The Phoenix. In their downtime, they complete science projects under the patient tutelage of Captain Cascadden. Unlike the captain, Mr. Radford is a cruel bully who revels in the crew’s misery from seasickness, blistered hands, uncomfortable quarters, and homesickness. Five days into their trip, rough weather turns into a full-blown gale. Captain Cascadden and Mr. Radford have The Phoenix under control, but J.J., thinking he knows best, decides to raise the sails to outrun the storm. Instead, The Phoenix crashes into a 40-foot wave, snapping the mast and knocking the captain overboard.

The crew frantically works together, pumping water out of the flooding schooner, but over the next two days, the situation deteriorates. The adolescents wake to find that Radford abandoned them, taking the dinghy, most of the food, and the GPS. The six young crew members are left alone on the sinking schooner, with its flooded engine and tangled sails. They work together as a team to buy time: Lyssa dries out and rebuilds the engine as the others pump out water. Just as things seem to be working, an unfortunate mistake causes an explosion, setting The Phoenix on fire, causing it to sink.

Luke finds the floating cabin top. He saves Will, dragging him to the makeshift raft. Ian swims to the raft through the wreckage, pulling a rainhat and charred sail—remembering survival skills gleaned from TV shows. They see Charla dive off the burning foremast. She joins them, but Lyssa and J.J. are nowhere to be found.

The four survivors cling to the raft. After six days, they are near death, experiencing dehydration, starvation, and sunburn. Just as Luke accepts that death is close, he sees a bird. Initially, Luke thinks the bird, seaweed, and dolphins are hallucinations, but the raft washes up on an island. A downpour fills the rain hat with fresh water and revives Luke, Charla, and Ian, but Will remains unconscious. They put aside their fear and sorrow and work together to save Will and survive on this mysterious island.