Author: Roland Smith

Publication: Harcourt, 2007

Pages: 256

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Peak Marcello comes from a family of climbers, but his dad is out of the picture, his mom no longer climbs, and he’s stuck in New York City.  In need of a challenge, he takes to climbing skyscrapers.  Unfortunately, one day he picks the wrong building and gets caught by the police.  It creates a media frenzy and suddenly Peak is looking at three years in juvenile detention.  Then his father, the famous rock climber Joshua Wood, swings into town and works a deal with the judge.   He’ll get Peak out of town and away from the spotlight if the judge will change Peak’s sentence from jail time to probation and a fine.  Before Peak even has time to think about what’s happening to him, he’s on a plane to Thailand with a dad he barely knows.  Once there, Joshua’s true plans slowly begin to unfold and Peak finds himself on the way to Mount Everest.  Joshua’s climbing company is in trouble, and what he needs is some major press attention – the kind of press that just might come his way if Peak becomes the youngest climber to ever reach the top of the world.  But getting there won’t just be tough.  It could be deadly.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: Smith has created a great voice in Peak.  It was really easy to get inside Peak’s head and feel like I was moving through the story with him.  He’s got an attitude and a way of thinking and speaking that drew me in from the first page and kept me reading.  Living inside his mind was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

It’s clear that Smith knows a great deal about rock climbing and even more about high altitude climbing, and that experience shines through on every page.  There are wonderful descriptions of life on Mount Everest as Peak struggles through ice fields at an altitude so high he can barely breath, spends the night in cramped tents with air cold enough to freeze his breath, and passes the long frozen bodies of other climbers on his way to the summit.

Smith has also done an excellent job of making this into more than just a climbing story by tossing in a pack of angry clients, an annoying reporter, a wily Sherpa, and a Tibetan boy almost Peak’s age who is alternately his friend, climbing partner, and rival.

What I Liked the Least: While Smith has created a very compelling read here, I couldn’t help feeling that he wasted numerous opportunities to increase the tension with more white knuckle action as Peak fights his way up the mountain.  However, I won’t go into that here as I already have plenty to say about it in the next section.  So read on to learn more.

How Good was the Action?  It was okay.  Don’t get me wrong.  This is a great survival story.  When Peak is up on the mountain, his muscles failing him, each breathe a torturous struggle, it’s easy to feel his pain and despair, easy to believe that this is an impossible journey.  The book is full of all the hardships that stand between Peak and the summit of Mt. Everest, and from that perspective it’s a great read.  But there’s not a lot of outright action.  And that’s unfortunate, because the book is chock full of moments that would have been perfect for a real moment-by-moment struggle, with Peak clinging to his life by a thread.  For example, as Peak is nearing the Summit he has to traverse the ‘three steps, a series of obstacles that require some complex climbing that is especially dangerous given the high altitude.  This would have been a great opportunity for some genuine action, giving readers to chance to sweat it out alongside Peak as he struggles up each of the steps.  But Smith summarizes the events of most those climbs in a brief paragraph or two.

How Engaging was the Story?   Peak has a great voice that kept me reading, and his rocky relationship with his dad, an ongoing conflict with a local Chinese military commander who wants to kick them off the mountain, and Peak’s alternating friendship and rivalry with fellow teen climber, Sun-jo was enough to keep me riveted from page one through the end of the book.  Smith could have made this novel about nothing more than Peak’s quest to climb Mount Everest and still had a compelling read.  By filling the story with strong rival characters and a compelling ethical dilemma, Smith has taken his book to the next level.

Overall Assessment: This was an engaging story and a great introduction to the world of Mount Everest and the climbers obsessed with conquering it.  Smith has created a very compelling character in Peak, and I was happy to jump into his world and go along for the ride.  The only down side was the relative lack of action.    If you’re looking for an Everest story with a great voice and plenty of good old fashioned moral conflict then Peak is a great option.  But if you’re looking for an Everest story with great action then you might be better off with Gordan Korman’s Everest, which is full of daring rescues and gut-clenching climbs, all drawn out in superb detail.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: None

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