Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Book Review Club - Summerland

This month for the Book Review Club, I curled up with Michael Chabon's, Summerland. I chose the piece because I'd never read anything by Chabon. Simple as that. I didn't know he'd won the Pulitzer Prize before choosing the book. I also (guilty cough) didn't know how good-looking he is. Wow. A good-looking man who can write? Compelling.

As is Summerland.

The story is about 12 year-old Ethan Feld, whose mother has died. His father, an engineer, wants to build dirigibles for a living, but as balloons that people can use individually. He moves Ethan and himself from Colorado to a small island, Clam Island, off of the coast of Washington to fulfill his dream.

His father also has another passion, baseball. Ethan doesn't share that passion, at least not at the beginning of the book. He's horrible at baseball, but plays for his father, winning himself the nickname Dog Boy because he stands at the plate waiting and trying to get a walk - like a dog - rather than trying to hit the ball.

Games on Clam Island take place on a narrow section of the island that, unlike the rest of it, is constantly sunny. Oddly sunny. Out of the ordinary sunny. Ethan soon learns why. The section of land is pleached - co-joined - with an alternate universe, The Summerlands.

The Summerlands is inhabited by ferishers - fairies - giants, sasquatsches, and the stuff of legends and old adventures. What's more, everybody in the Summerlands plays baseball. EVERYBODY. Much to Ethan's surprise, he's recruited by a strange old scout to play baseball for the Summerlands, and learns, when he journeys between his world and theirs, that it's for more than a world cup, it's for the world as we know it.

Wily old Coyote - the book is full of a rich mixture of various legends and folklore, this one being American Indian - is trying to bring about the end of the world. Ethan must somehow stop him. Coyote, however, gets a hold of Ethan's father and tricks Mr. Feld into reproducing the picofiber material that he created for his dirigibles for Coyote's end-of-the-world plans.

In the meantime, Ethan races across the Summerlands to stop Coyote. The trickster is planning on poisoning the Lodgepole, the tree, the brancehs of which both hold up and connect the Summerlands, the Middling (where we live) and the Winterlands (wher Coyote and his band of tricketers like to hang out), and the Gleaming (where spirits reside) - the alternate universes.

The tree is fed by a well, and Coyote wants to poison the well by using Mr. Feld's picofibers to transfer Nothingness down to the very roots of the tree. To get to the well, Ethan - like an hero - has to go through a series of adventures, most of them involving some form of baseball, which test his character and help him find his true strength and courage.

If it sounds rich and complex, it is. Chabon deftly uses 500 pages to introduce and bring to life this intricate and moving tale. While perhaps the greatest criticism I've both experienced and read about the piece is its slower pacing, the longer I've thought about it, the less inclined I am to mark it up as a fault of the book. Ethan's dad, Mr. Feld, says more than once that "a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day." Chabon creates and weaves into the story steady, relaxed, even pacing, I think, to get the reader herself to slow down, to chew on the gristle of the story, and to perhaps, if one can slow down enough, relax into and get lost in the journey, rather than race pell-mell through its adventures and mishaps toward that all-encompassing climax. Of course, the book does have a climax - one that will you make smile and remember fondly your own hours spent in a game up pick up baseball - but I'd venture to say, after having traveled through Summerland at a leisurely pace, this read is a lot more about the journey being the goal, as much as the climax of the story.

So if you're up for a relaxed adventure rich with tongue and cheek as well as a smattering of the world's collection of mesmerizing folklore, that will leave you yearning for the Summerlands as much as Ethan, pick up Chabon's bases loaded, sunny day, just you and your bat against the tomfoolery of the world's oldest trickster Summerland.

Go on, pick it up....you know you want to.

For more awesome reviews, mosey on over to our fearless leader's blog, Barrie Summy, whose put up links to them all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Shout Out to the Oklahoma SCBWI Conference

Saturday was that time of year again, time for the annual Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference. When did time start to rush so?

This conference was one of the best I've ever attended. Despite the downturn in the economy. Despite the massive lay-offs within the publishing industry. And in our case, despite the weather, the conference reached a new level of professional amazingness (is that a word???).

The speakers brought with them the gambit of writing and publishing. We brought the weather.

Will Rogers once said he loved living in Oklahoma because you could experience all four seasons within a week. This last weekend, the state really outdid herself. We had all four seasons within 48 hours. I think the visiting speakers were duly impressed. Even I, who has lived here long enough to have seen it all, was impressed.

We started out Friday with muggy temps in the hi 60s and rain. Saturday morning was briskly colder. It was still raining. I was on deck for picking up our speakers and bringing them to the OSU-Tulsa campus where the conference would take place. At 6 the next morning, hail started. I left the house with drizzle. In the few moments it took me to go into the hotel to get the speakers and then walk back out, the drizzle had turned to snow. Huge, wet, heavy, snowman flakes.

It only got more interesting from there. The snow came down in massive amounts. We ended up getting about 5 inches that day. However, we also got thunder, hail, rain, and a short power outage. Oh yes, we got it all.

The indoor program was no less amazing. It began with Laurent Linn, art director at Simon and Schuster, talking about "The Anatomy of a Picture Book." I love getting inside the head of an art director. I cannot draw all that well, so each gander through the thought processes that go into the visual creation of a picture book are not only illuminating but just a lot of fun.

Mary Kate Castellani of Walker Books for Young Readers talked about "The Five Elements that Make or Break a Manuscript." She talked about style and voice, and was very upbeat and approachable, something all of our speakers were this year. Each year brings out a different constellation, but this one was steallar - very open, approachable, ready to share and interact. Maybe it was the weather. There are no strangers in the middle of a snowstorm, but I think it was probably far more their distinct personalities that alighted ever so serendipitously at the conference. The stars aligned.

Kristin Daly of HarperCollins spoke about the work horses of the book industry - Chapter Books and Easy to Reads. She did a great job of really explaining how these books fit into that nebulous spot between picture books and middle grade. It takes a special writer to create stories that are simple in wording and yet entertaining enough to pull a young reader from the first page through to the end. Her talk was incredibly illuminating, both for me as a writer, and for the room. During her talk, the electricity went out.

After lunch the OK SCBWI had its first ever Business of Writing lecture by royalty consultant and CPA, Gail Gross. I have to admit, my dad is a CPA so I've been inundated with this side of the business, but it was interesting to listen to Gail discuss the ins and outs of contract negotiations and what to make sure is included or removed from your contract so that you can indeed check that royalty payments are fulfilled. It's information an author really needs to familiarize herself with, especially before going into contract negotiations. As much as we all love to write, it's the business part of books that keeps us afloat.

Abigail Samoun with Tricycle Press had a great presentation on picture books and working with her company. We got to see the evolution of "The Day We Danced in Underpants." I mean, who couldn't love a book with that title? It was interesting to review the edits that the text underwent and why. Always, insight into an editor's mind is like finding gold. One begins to understand the art of writing so much better.

The day ended with Elana Roth, agent with Caren Johnson Literary Agency. Elana compared the Author-Agent relationship to dating - marriage - divorce, discussing what an author should look for in an agent, what an agent looks for, how to keep the relationship healthy and what to do "if things aren't working out anymore." Her wry, witty sense of humor carried the talk through the nitty gritty of "the ones that never call back" through the glory of "finding the right one" and even across the rocky "things are working out" possibilities. She's my new relationship guru. If only I can convince her to be my agent.

Despite the wealth of information these presenters brought to the conference, it was their candidness that really made this conference. They were great sports about answering questions, regardless of how delicate the issue. They were upbeat, informative, and yet realistic. I've had my moments this last year, wondering about the effectiveness of conferences of this nature, but this group of panelists really restored my faith. Attending was more than worth the time and cost.

And on Sunday, the sun came out and temperatures climbed into the upper 60s. All four seasons, the gambit of publishing, and intense, lively, uplifting conversations about life, all within 48 hours. Way to go Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference. My shout out's to you!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shout Out to the Virginia Festival of the Book

Last week was Spring Break, that glorious one week in the Spring when kids get out of school, parents get to sleep in, and there may - if I'm lucky - even be a little adventure. This year, I was in luck. I spent the week in Charlottesville, Virginia, one of my old haunts. I love to get back to C-ville, as it is called by townies. It's got all the things I love in a town - eclectic restaurants, student life, TALL trees, an amazing assortment of people, and a lot of old friends.

This year, I went back because I'd been invited to participate in the Virginia Festival of the Book, as well as do a few school visits in the area. I took my girls with me. My oldest was born there in the throes of my dissertation. I gave birth to her and that heartbreaking work of not quite staggering genius - more like staggering sleepless chaos - in the same year. The two will be forever united and tied to C-ville, which means that, despite the tortures of doctoral woes, C-ville holds a very warm place in my heart.

The Virginia Festival of the Book makes C-ville all the neater. It began while I was in grad school, an amazing five day period filled with a smorgasbord of authors from all different genres talking about their craft. What's not to love???

I was honored (and a little intimidated!) to be a part of it this year. It's just plain weird to suddenly become a part of events I've only watched from afar as a lowly spectator. It was surreal to walk into schools in C-ville and be the guest speaker. Cool, but surreal.

If you ever get a chance to attend the festival, do. They have a dedicated group of people who put together the event each year. For children's authors, they create a list of participating authors and send it out to schools to help authors get school visits and schools get great authors. It also helps cover travel expenses for everyone. The event coordinators make sure to show up at the various panels and signings to say hello, make sure everything is going well, thank authors for participating, and put a face with a name. It was all very comfortable and friendly. I felt like I was back home, and appreciated. It was really a wonderful experience.

I also realized while I was there that Book Festivals are being hit by the economic recession as much as anything else. Corporate sponsorships haven't dried up completely, but they've lessened significantly. And yet, here was an event that brought people of all walks of life together to talk about storytelling, perhaps one of the greatest tools we humans possess, the ability to entertain with nothing more than gutteral sounds pieced together that create worlds, save princesses, try heroes, and keep detectives hopping. Storytelling challenges the mind, it opens the imagination, and it brings people together. It really is a pretty cheap but satisfying form of entertainment, that sometimes even teaches me a thing or two.

A hearty shout out to the folks that put together the Virginia Festival of the Book. I appreciate your hard work. I loved being a part of it. And I can't wait until next year!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shout Out to Spring Break

Whew. We made it. It's Spring Break!!!

No matter how old I get, I can't help but get excited when this glorious week rolls around.

I am spending the week in Charlottesville, Virginia, at my goddaughter's parent's house. I've got three school visits and a signing at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Two of the schools are visits at my goddaughter's school, as well as at my niece and nephew's school. I'm almost famous (giggle).

We're having fun already. My daughters are with me. My oldest was born in C-ville when I was working on my doctorate. She loves coming back here. So do I. And the younger one is always up for anything. We've been to all the old haunts - Bodo's Bagels, our old townhouse, downtown C-ville - with more to come; however, I'm taking a slight pause from blogging for this week. This is, after all, Spring Break. I'll be back next week with lots of cool photos of Charlottesville at its finest.

Until then!

Peace out world.

Friday, March 13, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

What does it mean to finish a book? Finite. Das Ende. Basta. Finish.

I've been thinking about that a lot. I just finished a major round of revisions on my WIP, and tomorrow, I finish my 30s. Endings have been up front and personal this week. I've decided, after much contemplation and sleepless nights pulling out my hair as I sweat over revisions - only to realize how much grey has snuck in at the end of my 30s - what "to finish" means depeneds very much on perspective.

Take high school for instance, finishing a book then had soooooooooo many diverse and colorful meanings. If it was Dickens, it meant finally putting myself out of my own misery and buying the Cliff Notes. Anna Karenina - longer than any stint in Purgatory should ever be - it meant realizing I was still reading and would never get the paper I had to write done before the end of the semester if I kept reading, thus coming to a screeching halt about 250 pages from the end, and - if you're reading this Ms. Yadon, I apologize but I was desperate - renting the movie. For Jane Austen, however, finishing meant reading everything the original queen of chic lit novel ever wrote from front to back, twice.

Ah, but for an author?

You might be a writer if, you don't finish books, you abandon them.

I'd love to take credit for coming up with that witty expression of a deeper truth, but it's been around longer than me, way longer. And I don't want to start plagiarizing now. That's a whole different blog. So, it is with a low nod and bow that I give credit to the great Oscar Wilde. It was he who said: "No book is ever finished. It is simply abandoned."

I did not get that as a reader. I finished books, in some way. I either read them to the end, which I did in 99% of all cases. There really are only a handful I've never read cover-to-cover. Two are mentioned above. The other one was Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before. There, I've outed myself as a book nerd. And through all of them, read or only partly read, I never got the impression I was abandoning anything.

Then I became a writer and Wilde's witticism took on a whole new meaning. My characters come to life for me. They follow me around. They talk to me in the car. I dream about the places I'm writing about. As I said last week, I have imaginary friends. As the creator of them all, it's hard to let them go when the story is over. Thank God for revisions!

I can stay in a story almost forever if for no other reason than revisions.

It wasn't until I completed Dragon Wishes, though, that I understood the whole abandonment issue Wilde was getting at. My books are like my children. I brought them to life, I fostered them, I made them into who they are. How can I ever let them go? With Dragon Wishes, though, I learned that there comes a point at which I am revising not to make better but just to revise, to stay in the story. That's when I know the time has come. The cord must be severed. The book let loose. Abandoned to its own fate.

The ameliorative? Plunging into another story, a new adventure.

It's the same with this decade. I'm saying goodbye to today. My 30s were good, but they've told their story. My 40s, however, they're a blank slate, a new adventure, luring me: "listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go."

I think I'll take the plunge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can You Ever Go Back?

Common wisdom has it that you can never go home again, but what about going back to high school? Last week, I was invited to return to my alma mater, Bishop Kelley High School, and speak at Career Day. I had to chuckle. Were they sure they wanted me, a poor but passionate children's writer? Was I there to scare some sense into all of the artist wannabes?? It is a Catholic school after all.

Curiosity got the better of me, and off I went to high school...again.

It was a liberating experience. First of all, I didn't have to wear the insanely unfashionable uniform anymore. It is a horrid plaid skirt - which doesn't burn if you try to set it on fire as some of us did after senior year. They just melt - white shirt, penny loafers or some such boring, flat shoes, white socks, and, if you're lucky, a thick, itchy red wool sweater-vest. Instead, I got to wear a purple silk shirt, stylish black corduroy pants and insanely high heels. Things were going well already.

I then got to talk to two different, impressionable classes, one of freshman and one of sophomores. I told them all about the joys of writing, as well as the all too important slightly less widely publicized fact that you should not exactly lose that day job once you leap into writing. Huge sigh of relief. They were informed...if they were listening.

I did my best to make sure they were. I assigned homework. Yes, the power of standing in front of the class at my old high school with some modicum of authority had clearly gone to my head. I've done umpteen school visits across the U.S. and spoken to thousands of children. Not once have I ever assigned homework, but last Wednesday, I was on a role. They had to write a single page about what inspired them. It was supposed to get their creative juices flowing. Now, whether they ever did it, I have no idea. But it sure was fun - guilty fun - to assign it. I know. I'm evil.

I also - ah, this really was great - got to call my teachers by their first names. I'm 39 mind you, but I still have to jump over my own shadow to do that. It's all that Catholic upbringing, I guess, but I rose to the occasion. The scary part was, though, that I've been gone long enough, most of the people who taught me have retired or moved on. Okay, not so cool.

My talks went well, I think. Nobody hated me. They even, the dispassionate, too cool for the world high schoolers, laughed and participated in my talks. For me, that made the day a success.

All in all, it wasn't such a bad experience, although I have to admit, the highlight for me was walking out of those hallowed halls where I sweated math, English, social studies, and German for four painful years knowing that high school is forever behind me. I know. I know. Some people loved high school. For me, it was torture - old enough to know about all of the other things out there that I wanted to do, but not old enough to actually do them. I was utterly relieved by the knowledge that I don't have to manuever the halls, worry about which boy likes me, whether my make up looks decent, if I'll pass that calculus test on Friday, whether I'll ever finish Anna Karenina, PSAT, SATs, ACTs, AP English, academic decathlon, cross country quarter sprints, interviews for journalism, applications, and if I'll actually go to a decent college. I did. It all worked out. Thank God.

Nevertheless I did learn that you can go back to high school...for a day. You can try and tell those stuck in the craziness of adolescence, it will all get better. Will it make a difference? Who knows. But you can let them in on the greatest secret...there's an amazing world just waiting on the other side of those glass doors. All you have to do is make it through them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shout out to Daylight Saving

It's that time of year again. Daylight Saving Time. Spring forward time. Be tired time.

In case you hadn't noticed, I am a very reluctant daylight saving participant. We didn't even have daylight saving in Indiana when I was growing up. I wasn't "exposed" to the insanity until I left the state. Imagine my alarm. I've never quite gotten over it.

Still, it comes every year. Spring is the worst, losing an hour of sleep. Sunday is okay. You can fake it through the day, but Monday morning? Oh, Nellie. I started dreading it yesterday afternoon, and come 5:45 a.m., a.k.a. 4:45 a.m., this morning when my alarm went off, I hated it. I grumbled, "Whose brilliant idea is daylight saving anyway?"

I decided to get behind the mystery of daylight saving. Now, I have to say, I should have realized who was behind the master plan. I really should have. There is really only one person to blame for "improvements" of this nature.

Yes, it's good ole Ben Franklin. His wasn't a new idea, however. The Romans - of course - practiced daylight saving, albeit in an oh-so-preindustrial-revolution-and-no-trains-on-schedules kind of way. They had 12 hours of sunlight every day. Period. In the winter, those twelve hours were shorter than in the summer. In the summer, the sunrise hour lasted 75 minutes. In the winter, a brief 44. Time really was relative. I can only imagine what the average Roman citizen thought of that.

Ben Franklin revisited the idea of saving time in the summer when he was in France (notice, not in the U.S. where farmers might have lynched him for such crazy talk). He was, ironically - or perhaps ever so pertinently - trying to find a way to save on energy costs. That's when he came up with his "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" saying. He suggested Parisians could save money on candles by getting up earlier. He even wrote an essay on it "An Economical Project," but the Parisians were apparently as loathe to changing their clocks as I am. They didn't embrace the idea at all.

And so it died for a while, until William Willett came around. Willett, an Englishman, was an avid outdoorsman and golfer. As he road across the English countryside, he was appalled at how much of the day people slept through in the summer - bad, bad loafers! He began to push for Fanklin's daylight saving approach in England. His idea, while supported by Edward VI and Churchill, wasn't enacted in his lifetime, nor first in England. Guess who was against it - farmers. They hated it (apparently, crops should be harvested when the dew has dried. Having workers in earlier means ineffective work time. The crops are still drying early in the morning. So it's a big waste for farmers to start the day with the sun.) They effectively kept DST from English lands.

So how did this whole nuttiness of changing clocks ever get started?

Really, the blame lies with the Germans. I'm married to one. He grew up there, the whole nine yards. Germans are all about efficiency, I'll give them that. But it was war, WW I to be exact, that drove them to enact DST. Not one of the sites I visited says why. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it was to cut on energy costs and get in more fighting time. WW I was fought in the trenches. No light. No fighting. When the U.S. entered WW I in 1918, we adopted daylight saving.

U.S. farmers weren't any happier than British ones about the change. Post WW I, they lobbied effectively to abolish DST in the U.S. It was enacted again during WW II, and then abolished again. In fact, DST as we know it now didn't come about until 1966.

And guess who is its greatest proponent today (I'd have never figured this one out) - convenience stores. More daylight means bigger sales for them. And, of course, the sporting industry. In fact, it was convenience stores and sporting manufacturers who lobbied for and got the present extension of DST that went into effect in 2007. Who knew.

So there you have it. It's a "huge conspiracy" dating back hundreds to thousands of years. My shout out today is to all of those forward thinkers who didn't have anything better to do than play with time. When the sand man is beating me to death tomorrow morning, now I'll know who to shake my sleepy fists at.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You Might be an Writer If...

I've been thinking about friends lately. My big 40th birthday bash is this Saturday, a whole 7 days premature. It was a tough choice, celebrating early, going over to the dark side of 40 before my time. But, when it came right down to it, I didn't hem and haw very long over choosing to do it. I'm starting the celebrating early because I want to have my friends at the gala event, and in Oklahoma, March 13th is the start of Spring Break. Loads of friends will be out of town for my real birthday, March 14. So, I'm crossing over a week early.

Making that decision, as paltry as it really is, got me to thinking about what friends are. While for this event I definitely want the human, flesh and blood version, I think writers actually have a pretty broad definition of "friend." Friends don't actually have to be real people for a writer. Not exactly. They can be, well, imaginary. Some of my best companions have been characters in books. Which brings me to the topic of this week's quirky writer post:

You might be a writer if...you have far more imaginary friends now than you ever did as a child.

As a child, I was very aware of the fact that other kids around me had imaginary friends. I, of course, wanted one too. I waited diligently for one to show up. Maybe I wasn't the sharpest pencil in the drawer, but what can I say, I was four. I thought that that was what happened. These imaginary people just showed up.

You can imagine my disappointment when none ever did. I wasn't one to give up easily, though. In a fit of desperation, I took things into my own hands and made up an imaginary friend in that I'm-dressing-up-and-becoming-a-different-person kind of way. I just couldn't do the "I-can't-see-her" imaginary friend. I had to see her. Hear her. So I created Starcy. Starcy was a star performer with a name supiciously similar to mine who dressed glamoursly in a hula grass skirt and lei (the most glamorous clothing I had). My mom thought Starcy was great. She wanted to see her a lot, which meant I dressed up a lot, danced the hula, and talked about being a glamorous star. I enjoyed the novelty of Starcy for a while, but, in the end, she just wasn't real enough for me. I gave her up. And that was that with imaginary friends.

When I became a children's author, I more than made up for my meager helping of imaginary friends as a four year old. I now have tons. TONS. Each book means at least ten new ones. They follow me around. They talk to me. They visit me in my sleep. They don't go away when a book is done either. They crowd in on new projects. I don't know how many times Maddie, from my middle grade novel, Draogn Wishes, has shown up while I've been working on Pelorus Jack. Secretly - of course, oh-not-so-very-secretly now - I ask them for advice when working on the plot. I call conferences of my characters. It's true. I've gone over the edge when it comes to imaginary friends. Without them, I don't think I'd ever finish a single book.

Still, as much as I love my imaginary friends, it's the real flesh and blood ones that make living worthwhile. They are the ones I have a glass of wine with when the going gets tough. They lend an ear when I need to vent about my family. They bring me chocolate! Truth be told, it's my real friends who have taught me how to have imaginary ones. Without them, I wouldn't be the writer I am today. In the words of the wise Emily Dickinson, "My friends are my estate."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Book Review Club - Peak

I've never been much for climbing mountains. Don't get me wrong. I love the great outdoors. I love hiking. I just went about learning to climb mountains all wrong.

I was an undergrad doing an exchange year in Innsbruck, Austria. They warned us to bring hiking boots, but I was a poor undergrad. I couldn't afford hiking boots. Besides, I thought, why would I need them? They have regular roads in Austria, don't they?

Halfway up the Untersberg - huge, dangerous mountain - in Salzburg, Austria, in my deck shoes, when we started passing the lonely crosses hanging along the sheer granite wall just above the steps hewn into the rock that were slippery with rain and dropped off 1,000 meters to one side, I began to see the error in my ways. I lived to tell about my follies, but that climb put the very real fear of dying on teh side of a mountain into me.

Peak, by Roland Smith, takes that fear factor to new, uncharted heights, Everest heights. I really enjoyed this book. It's a great, action-packed, well-written read. The basic story line centers around Peak Marcello, a rock climbing fanatic who's caught scaling the Woolworth building in New York City. He is charged with a whole host of crimes from trespassing to reckless endangerment. Juvenile Hall seems imminent.

Enter, super dad: Peak’s almost never present, world famous mountain climbing father, Joshua Wood, arrives unexpectedly and offers to take Peak back with him to his home in Nepal, where he has already enrolled his son in school. Problem seemingly solved.

Not quite. Peak never makes it to Nepal. What's more, he learns it was never his father’s intention to take him there. Josh is headed to the slopes of Everest, where he is leading an expedition. He offers Peak the chance of a lifetime, to come along.

What appears to be much-delayed but deeply craved fatherly concern and attention soon reveals itself as self-motivation. Josh’s business - leading expeditions up Everest - is in danger. He needs something spectacular to make his company stand out, like - say - the youngest climber to summit Everest. The record stands at fifteen. Peak is only fourteen. His initial excitement about climbing the mountain plummets when he realizes his father’s motive is not parental concern but self-gain.

What’s more, Peak has competition: another fourteen year-old boy, Sun-jo, is also trying to summit the mountain with Josh Woods’ expedition. However Sun-jo’s motivation is far more gravitating that either Josh’s or Peak’s. Sun-jo's father, a Sherpa, died saving Josh. Since then, the family has fallen on hard times. If Sun-jo summits Everest, the resulting fame will earn him enough money to bring prosperity back to his family.

The plot takes on a whole new level tension as it splits in two. It's no longer just about Peak’s struggle to achieve individual gain (summiting the mountain). The story turns into a struggle about personal growth (letting the other guy win).

For as much as this book had me hanging on the edge of my seat, I take one issue with it, namely, the age issue. Peak does not seem like a 14 year old. Granted, it's got to take some real maturity to scale a mountain such as Everest. To acknowledge this, Smith makes Peak a 14 year old graduating senior from a elite, private, alternative school in NYC. It helps, but if I had had to guess Peak's age, I'd have gone with 18 at least. Even the life lesson learned at the end of the book seems far beyond the grasp of a 14 year old (many 40s year olds for that matter): "The only thing you'll find at the summit of Mount Everst is a divine view. The things that really matter lie far below."

I wish, in many ways, Smith had put told Peak's story in retrospective, giving his character the wisdom of age in reflecting on his climb, much like Spinelli did with his main character in Star Girl. Still, I don't think the age issue is one that would phase a 14 year old reading the book in the least. At 14, one dreams of doing things like this, and Smith's story makes the impossible probable. I took the leap of faith, albeit reluctantly, but I doubt my reasons are ones that would hold back a young adult reader. What's more, my criticism wouldn't stop me from buying the book or recommending it. It passes the thrill test with flying colors. I didn't want to put the book down. I had to find out what happened. The story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat...and a lot safer than in deck shoes scaling the side of a slippery mountain.

For more awesome reviews, check out The Book Review Club's main guru, Barrie Summy. There are some really neat ones this month.