The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer, for Billy is quickly discovered. But a series of hapless events charms the public, and he becomes known as ‘the stowaway’ and the Everyboy face of the expedition … It’s the cultural context that Shapiro adds through her deeply researched reporting that enables Billy’s story to illuminate this particular era … That Billy goes to Antarctica, that he returns a hero and that the spotlight inevitably moves on make up the entire dramatic arc of this book. Its charm is in how the irresistibly plucky Billy becomes a metaphor for America on the cusp of an amazing spurt of progress … The Stowaway is a charming book, a glimpse of history that, by definition, fascinates and delights.
It reads like a story of pure fiction … Ms. Shapiro sees Gawronski and his journey as symbolic of the derring-do era in which he came of age. Adventurers such as Byrd and Charles Lindbergh were widely admired and boys dreamed of following in their path … As Ms. Shapiro recounts in the book, it was an odyssey that bordered on the comedic—the unwanted passenger was quickly discovered and sent back home, only to make two follow-up attempts.
Shapiro’s writing is serviceable, though not a model of elegance, and she sometimes opts for a 'gee-whillikers' tone ('How Billy yearned for a taste of dangers, hardships, thrills on the ice'). But this takes little away from the merits of a book that would make a perfect gift for a spirited, adventure-seeking adolescent.
Shapiro has rescued Billy Gawronski’s story from obscurity and given us a nuanced portrait of an extraordinary young man. It’s also a fascinating window into the life of Richard Byrd and America itself in the exuberant 1920s and crushing Depression that followed ... The Stowaway is a must-read for all polar exploration enthusiasts and lovers of well-told adventure stories.
For this brief moment, Shapiro’s Billy is our Bachelor, our YouTube star. He’s the kid who frees himself from destiny to forge his own, leapfrogging class, symbolizing our wanderlust and the power of imagination over expectation ... Ultimately, the stumbles in The Stowaway — including the skimming quality of the prose — are overshadowed by Shapiro’s hustle in resurrecting Billy ... like an intriguing photo album brought out from the bottom drawer: If the gaps between images sometimes frustrate, the granular detail can fascinate. It shows us who we are, and what we’re trying to escape.
The Stowaway has the makings of a high-concept true story for the ages … Shapiro narrates this period piece with gusto. But pushed beyond an elevator pitch, The Stowaway’s high concept stalls … All of which begs the question of whether The Stowaway isn’t a book that would have made a great magazine article. In pursuit of the blockbuster narrative nonfiction grail, it comes across as inflated. Like a photographic miniature blown up to poster size and tricked out in Instagram hues, its definition blurs; you lose yourself in the pixels.
During the 1920s, when the spirit of adventure surged through the country, nobody felt it more strongly than Billy Gawronski … This book isn’t so much a seafaring adventure as a getting-to-sea adventure, but it ultimately reveals as much about a country’s changing values as it does about one boy’s pluck. Thoroughly researched, but the narrative reads like a yarn from that era.
Shapiro interweaves snippets of Russell Owen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage of the expedition for the New York Times into the main narrative, which tracks Billy’s progression from being a reckless stowaway to commanding a ship in WWII ... This coming-of-age story about a strong-willed boy with an insatiable appetite for adventure is evocative of the Hardy Boys and will appeal to both adult and young adult readers.