All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boy’s Soccer team

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (teens and adults)

Themes: Thailand, Tham Luang, Soccer Team, Entrapment, Flooding, Cave divers, Rescue workers, International teamwork, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. The boys are trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spreads, launching a seventeen-day rescue operation involving thousands of rescuers from around the globe. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder: how long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Luckily, the Wild Boars are a very extraordinary “ordinary” group.

Combining firsthand interviews of rescue workers with in-depth science and details of the region’s culture and religion, author Christina Soontornvat—who was visiting family in Northern Thailand when the Wild Boars went missing—masterfully shows how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the thirteen young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission. Meticulously researched and generously illustrated with photographs, this page-turner includes an author’s note describing her experience meeting the team, detailed source notes, and a bibliography to fully immerse readers in the most ambitious cave rescue in history.

What to love about this book:

Christina Soontornvat has adeptly written a story about the rescue of the Thai Soccer team that is riveting and heart-pounding. Most readers know the ending of the boys’ rescue. What they don’t know is the herculean international effort (10,000 people) it takes to bring the team out safely, against all odds they won’t survive. Soontornvat has readers sitting on the edge of their seats as they absorb the details of their harrowing rescue, and the power of the human spirit to survive. The story is suspenseful to the end.  All Thirteen is the best nonfiction I’ve read in a long time.

Soonornvat watches the search for the boys on Thai television. When she returns to the U.S. and sees the media coverage of the rescue, she realizes that “she didn’t see any Thai faces.” The media focuses much of their attention on the expert British and other western divers involved in the ultimate rescue. With her Thai background, she feels she can bring the Thai culture into the story that others miss — a story that “lets the country and culture shine.” Her goal is to showcase the relentless work of the Thai Seals, the military, rescuers, the Get-It-Done-Crew and ordinary volunteers who work day and night to feed everyone and do what ever is needed.

All Thirteen is painstakingly researched. Soontornvat returns to Thailand in October 2018 with only one interview scheduled with Vern Unsworth, a British “cave man” living in Mae Sai. He’s spent many years exploring all the cave passages of Tham Luang and knows it better than anyone. This is a lucky break for Soontornvat because everyone knows and respects him. The two connect and she finds herself booked solid with interviews. It is also important to note that Soontornvat’s mechanical engineering background helps her take scientific information and make it understandable for readers.

The book is beautifully designed and easy to read. There is a narrative that flows throughout the story that draws readers into the center of the action and holds them spellbound. Gorgeous photographs adorn every page chronicling the rescue and diving efforts, the caverns inside of Tham Luang, the boys, the volunteers and the water-diversion teams working to lower the flood levels inside the cave.  Readers are also treated to inserts about the beautiful country of Thailand, the culture, Buddhism, temples, maps of the cave system, diving rules, and information on oxygen concentrations and hypothermia.

Important to the story is the strong relationship between the boys and Coach Ek, the 25-year-old Buddhist soccer coach. He is a major reason the boys survive. He teaches the boys meditation as part of their soccer training. The cave is damp and chilly. The boys are wet, cold, starving and living in complete darkness, except for necessary times when Coach Ek turns on a flashlight. They do have clean drinking water. Coach Ek is determined to keep the boys from panicking or falling into despair before the divers find them on Day 10. He urges them to rest and conserve energy. The boys meditate. They scratch “help” messages into the cave walls. They make promises to look after one another forever. They dream and talk about seeing their families. When divers find them, they are surprised by the boys morale.

Favorite quote: “Breath by breath they each became master of the one thing they can control inside Tham Luang: their own minds.” Page 55

All Thirteen is written for middle grade students, but is also appropriate for teens and adults. The deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. This compelling discussion book belongs in every school library. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for readers who love survival stories.

*Note:  My enthusiasm for All Thirteen was enhanced by attending a virtual zoom book launch October 18 with Christina Soontornvat. It was moderated by author Kate Messner and sponsored by the Book People. If you have a similar opportunity to attend a virtual event, it is worth your time.

Christina Soontornvat is the author of several books for young readers, including the middle-grade fantasy novel, A Wish in the Dark. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in science education and lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. Visit Christina at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy is provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

24 thoughts on “All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

  1. How cool you got to go to the virtual book launch. I remember when this was on the news. It sounds like a fascinating story that brings the heroic efforts to save those kids to life. Glad you enjoyed it so much.


    • All Thirteen is gorgeous and a compelling read that draws readers into the story from page one. Her focus on the the Thai culture enriches the story of the boys and you really understand how harrowing the expedition is. Listening to Christina discuss her book, really added to my excitement about the story. She has a number of virtual book launches scheduled. You can find them on her FB page.


  2. I’ve been waiting for this book to come out. It will be amazing to read about a recent event we were all concerned about. I have enjoyed some virtual book launches recently too and enjoyed them.


    • I hope you read a copy. I raved about it to my husband and he’s now totally engrossed in the boys story. There is so much suspense around the rescue and readers will be quickly turning the pages. It may be written for middle graders, but teens and adults will be in awe of what was accomplished by so many people.


  3. I remember following details of the rescue back then and am glad this book will help relive the ten days. It was amazing when it happened but the details you provided make it even more enthralling. I might have to gift myself this Christmas with a copy! Thanks for introducing this special non-fiction title on MMGM.


    • This book is special, because Christina is able to really tell this harrowing story and share things much of the media miss. I hope you gift yourself the book, because it is well worth the time you’ll spend with it. My husband is about half way through the book and commented about what a masterful writer she is. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.


    • I will look forward to your thoughts. When I sat down to write my review I had to decide on what I would share without spoiling anything. You will be amazed what the public didn’t know. My husband is now reading my copy and can’t put it down.


    • It deserves the praise it is receiving! Christina’s background really rounded out this story and introduced readers to an unfamiliar culture. The Thai people are very respectful people and there were clashes with the westerners who were very matter of fact. These issues were resolved, so that all were working together. Such a suspenseful story until the very end. Ward is reading the book now and loves Christina’s writing skill.


    • You are one of the people I thought of when I was writing my review. I kept thinking, this (STEM) story is perfect for you. There was so much detail that I didn’t share because I didn’t want to spoil the story. But, you would be especially interested in the water-diversion teams that located places on the opposite side of the mountain to lower water levels inside the caves — something the media knew little about. The book is packed with science.


  4. This sounds like an excellent account of an awful incident that ended well! I had no idea how the boys’ coach helped them keep morale up while they were still in the cave. How neat that you attended the virtual book launch! Thanks for the great review!


    • Rosi, thought of you as I reviewed this book. There is suspense from the start. You will really enjoy Christina’s writing style. My husband read the books in nearly a day. He was hooked and couldn’t put it down.


    • Oh my gosh, this book is an outstanding read. You can’t put it down! Even my husband read it and loved it. Suggest you take a peek before you gift it, because I know you’ll love it too! So well written and packed with suspense! I have the ARC, so I had to go to the book store to see the beautiful photographs. Christina Soontornvat also wrote a teen fantasy novel this year, “A Wish in the Dark,” that is outstanding for teens — giving that novel to my great granddaughter.

      Liked by 1 person

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