The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica

Written by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Review by Bethany Latham

The Roaring ‘20s were a time of ebullience and adventure: ticker-tape parades for heroes such as Lucky Lindy, with his solo flight across the Atlantic. Admiral Richard Byrd plans to be the first to fly over the South Pole on his Antarctic expedition, and Billy Gawronski, teenaged child of Polish immigrants, is willing to do whatever it takes to go with him. Gawronski stows away on Byrd’s flagship in a desperate attempt to achieve what half of America apparently wants ― to accompany the polar expedition to its final destination.

This nonfiction work is written in chatty prose, and is as much a gossip column of Jazz Age zeitgeist as it is the story of Gawronski. This gives the narrative a somewhat disjointed feel, and the sensation that much of what is included may be filler, since it is unrelated to Gawronski or the expedition. Perhaps it’s the cheerful tone, perhaps an inability to flesh out characterization, or perhaps that this particular polar expedition experienced no calamity—but this “adventure” story is notably lacking in thrills, excitement, and engagement. Instead, it works better as a sort of bubbly overview of 1920s atmosphere and the fascination with adventurers.