I just finished Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson and The OFF Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. It was a reading weekend, what with all the rain and catching up on my down-time, so you get a double review today!
I try not to do these labels too often, but there's been so much talk on the web & blogs lately about losing boy readers, I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here. I think Leepike Ridge may be the perfect "boy" book. It's an adventure story, with the kind of grippy, even creepy moments that had me flinching and that, I think, will have my son turning the pages as fast as he can. (I've done my usual clever reading out loud of intense passages, shuddered visibly at the claustrophobia I get from a few incredibly written paragraphs, and left the book laying obviously around. If he takes the bait, I'll repost and let you know his take.)
Tom Hammond lives on top of a cliff. Literally. His house is chained to the rock, that's how precarious things are. Yet Tom, to me, feels incredibly stable, despite the fact that his father died three years ago and his mom may be remarrying soon. Tom seems rooted to the rock and to his life there, in a good way...solid, sturdy.
And then Tom ends up under the rock. Hence my claustrophobia, which I shoved forcefully and willingly away into the recesses of my psyche, so that I could stay with Tom. I'm not going to describe what Tom finds there, and--in some ways--the specifics don't matter. Yes, Tom discovers another world, but this isn't a fantasy novel. The magic is in the reality of what Tom learns and in the layers--the layers of rock and the layers of dark, deep caverns, and the layers of history.
The coolest part is that Wilson so clearly had fun writing this book. He had fun with the adventure and with the discoveries, and he totally had fun with his own words--at times, the language practically dances through the novel. There's the real reason I want my son to read Leepike Ridge--Wilson doesn't sacrifice story or language. Instead, he weaves them together--a lot like the balance of rushing water and silent rocks that Tom finds right under his own house.
The Off Season
I read the prequel to this book, Dairy Queen, last year, and I really enjoyed it. I was happy to see another book about D.J. Schwenk on the Cybils list, and I kind of kept my fingers crossed that it would be as good. Guess what...crossing your fingers works!
I love D.J. D.J is the kind of character that, as hard as her life is and as much as you wouldn't wish parts of it on anybody...well, you still wish you were her. Or, at least you wish you had some of her qualities--her smarts, her strength, and her solid common sense. Anyway, I wish I'd had them when I was her age.
D.J. is sixteen. In Dairy Queen, D.J. decides she's going to follow the family tradition; she's going to try out for the highschool football team. The boys' team. Sounds like a gimmick, right? A setup for all sorts of crude jokes, harassment themes, and one of those issue books? Nope. Not in Murdock's hands. Dairy Queen is simply about D.J, who she is, what she wants, and how she gets there.
The Off Season continues D.J.'s story and Murdock's wonderful storytelling. D.J. is not only playing football, she's playing great! She's heading toward love with the quarterback from the opposing team, the one she fell into crush with in Dairy Queen. She's riding high. Until she's faced with, as I said, more choices than anyone should have to make, especially a sixteen-year-old girl.
What I love about Murdock's writing is how beautifully she writes, not only single characters, but the whole family-as-character. Every individual in the story is fully and strongly drawn, not just as a person, but as a piece of this family that has been around for years before we even meet DJ. Their personalities and their interactions are life patterns that we step into; we're introduced to these people, instead of the other way around. And as difficult and frustrationg as the patterns are, it's the solidity of them that make DJ, and the story, what they are. Thank you, Ms. Murdock.
And thank you again, Cybils, for all your hard work and your great taste!