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.