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.


PJ Hoover said...

Sounds like a great book, Stacy! And great review!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Great review--thanks. I just received the critique on my YA MS from my agent that my girls were too old (freshman year of college)--can't they be 15 like the girls in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. My arguments are similar to yours--age and maturity and life experience make the plot plausible in this case--but the industry is totally "younging" their literature.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Sounds like an awesome premise! Great review!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. You've "peeked" my interest. LOL!

I read a chick lit novel set in Napal, interesting enough. Adventures are a compelling part of any read.

Sarah Laurence said...

You climbed the Alps(?) in deck shoes? Now that's a story..... I love how you connected your personal story to this book review.

This sounds like a fun premise for a novel - so full of plot twists. I should tell my 14 year old son who likes climbing tall peaks.

Interesting reflection on the age of the protagonist. I wonder if he was 18 originally and if the book was repackaged for YA. Interesting and thoughtful review!

Keri Mikulski said...

Great review! Thanks!

PEAK sounds good and full of adventure.. :)

Mitch Wallace said...

Great review! I might just have to check out PEAK once my book backlog simmers down a bit.

And your blog looks like a cool place to hang out. I love your "You Might Be A Writer If..." posts. I'm devouring them as we speak!

Stacy Nyikos said...

Hey, I like that one!

Green Girl I know just what you mean. It doesn't seem all that productive to young up adult dialogue and experiences. Yeesh.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Sarah, yeah I climbed the Alps in deck shoes. Not one of my more intelligent decisions. We had a lot of rubble on the side of one hill, and one wrong step would have sent me straight down 60 m. Not good. I'm terrified of mountains now. Not going up them, but definitely climbing down.

Kim Kasch said...

I value shoes. Just the other day my husband and I were talking about women who wear stiletto heels - at basketball games. Your mountain reminded me of those ladies - they have to climb up bleachers in those things-seriously, what are they thinking?

Christina Farley said...

I read this book not long ago and really loved it being a climber (or at least before kids). But for some reason the ending was a little of a downer for me. Still, I liked it

Barrie said...

Wow, Stacy! I'd never even heard of this book. Great review. Love the photos and how you related it to you life too! Thanks for joining in again this month!

Stacy Nyikos said...

Kim, Deck shoes were not my finest hour, but I didn't die, and I learned the value of a truly good pair of hiking boots.

Christina, yeah, the ending was more an adult ending. I just didn't think a 14 year old would walk away from Everest with that thought. But still, a good read.

Barrie, Thanks YOU so much. You are the organizing guru!

Anonymous said...

Great review to such a wonderful book. I can't keep it on the shelf with my middle school kids.