Jim Jeansonne’s new middle grades adventure novel, Coral Crunch (2023, self published through Kindle Direct) has it all. There’s science, suspense, derring do, and young romance (she doesn’t just like him, she like likes him). But perhaps its most engaging quality is its setting: Nearly all of this riveting plot unfolds underwater.
This makes sense, if you know the author. Jeansonne’s book is informed by 23 years of managing environmental disasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
“That was a lot of fun,” says the retired marine biologist, recalling overflights to determine how and where oil was leaking.
On a Yellow Submarine
This background translates to the plot, which centers on an expedition to assess the potential for old wrecks in the U.S. Virgin Islands to damage coral reefs. (They can either slam into them during storms or slowly leak oil.) Conducting the voyage is the Lyons family, a troupe of aquanauts who live aboard a nifty yellow underwater habitat (the Sea Lyons’ Den — prepare for a lot of Lyon-related puns) and travel the ocean floor with the aid of high-tech Hydro-Gill scuba gear.
Their discoveries — inspired by a similar NOAA research project — might offer enough thrills to hook many young readers. But then the Lyons cross paths with daring young free diver Jeanbeau Labourde. And then they all become unwittingly entangled with the machinations of local drug-runners, the plot really takes off. Get ready for sneaky spying, devious traps, heart-pounding escapes, and the small but satisfying triumph of an underdog kid brother.
Inspiring Future Scientists
Jeansonne’s goal in writing Coral Crunch was to inspire young readers.
“I wanted to excite them the way that I got excited reading Jacques Cousteau when I was young,” he says, recalling his early fascination with the famous explorer’s Starfish House experiment.
Much about this book is likely to inspire. Addie Lyons is a bright, confident young woman getting her first hands-on taste of an exhilarating career. Jeanbeau Labourde is a brave, talented diver who enjoys sharing island culture with others. While some characters — in particular the thuggish, clumsy antagonist — seem a bit stiff, the two protagonists are well developed and likely to appeal to their target audience. And science-minded readers of all ages will enjoy the text’s detailed attention to the biology of coral reefs and the technical processes that make working and living underwater possible.
If you’re looking for a cool summer read, why not dive in?