Thursday, March 13, 2014

Peak, Roland Smith

Title:  Peak
Author:  Roland Smith
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Year: 2007
Pages: 246
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Adventure, Family, Mountaineering
Age Range: 5th Grade and Up

Summary: from Goodreads
After fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello is arrested for scaling a New York City skyscraper, he's left with two choices: wither away in Juvenile Detention or go live with his long-lost father, who runs a climbing company in Thailand. But Peak quickly learns that his father's renewed interest in him has strings attached. Big strings. As owner of Peak Expeditions, he wants his son to be the youngest person to reach the Everest summit--and his motives are selfish at best. Even so, for a climbing addict like Peak, tackling Everest is the challenge of a lifetime. But it's also one that could cost him his life.

It's pretty unusual that I would ever label a book as appropriate for grades five and up.  After all, the interests of fifth graders and the interests of high schoolers are not exactly similar.  But as an adult reader I found Peak to be exciting, interesting, and suspenseful, even without making allowances for the fact that it is a children's book.  If you read and enjoyed Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, then I think that you will enjoy this children's novel, even as an adult reader.  Roland Smith does an excellent job describing the life-threatening conditions and death-defying acts that it takes to climb the highest mountain in the world.

The character of Peak is one that I think a lot of kids would relate to, and not just the boys.  Though this book does seem stereotypically geared more towards boys, and most of the main characters are male, the author makes sure to portray at least one strong female climber.  Peak is dealing with adolescence, changing family circumstances, and the absence of his father by doing the one thing he knows how to do-climb.  Since he lives in New York City, the only thing to climb is skyscrapers.  He leaves his mark on each one, a not-too-subtle nod to the concept that the teenage years are when we start to figure out how we want to leave our mark on the world.  The family dynamic is interesting, but the novel doesn't really feel like it gets started until Peak get on the mountain.  From that point on I could barely put the book down, so drawn in was I by what it takes to climb Everest.  The reader learns about how to acclimate to the altitude, the very real dangers of falling, freezing, or suffocating to death up there where the air is so thin.  There are pretty frank, though not graphic, mention of the bodies that litter the upper slopes of Everest, since helicopters can not fly that high to retrieve those who die in their attempt at the summit.  Not that the family drama diminishes once Peak get to the mountain.  His father, someone who is so well regarded as a climber, is a pretty sucky dad.  When it becomes clear that he is using Peak to make a name for his climbing business, you completely understand Peak's first impulse, which is to refuse to make the climb.  But what mountaineer, when presented with the chance, wouldn't try to make the summit of Everest, and that is eventually what Peak decides.  Ultimately, Peak has to decide whether to try and grab the glory for himself, or help save his friend from the Chinese authorities, who control the north face of Everest.  It is this choice, not the act of climbing in such dangerous conditions, that truly shows how brave Peak is.

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