FREE RADICAL

“Alaska is a great place to hide,” and Luke McHenry’s mother has been hiding there for 31 years. She has hidden her own identity, she has hidden the facts of Luke’s identity, and she has hidden from the consequences of one reckless act so many years before. But as Faith McHenry says, “By hiding all these years, I avoided one prison and created another.” Never able to hide from the guilt she feels for a death she caused during an anti-war protest in 1970, Faith, really Mary Margaret Cunningham, goes back to California to turn herself in and face the jail time she knows she deserves. It is not a surprise who Faith McHenry really is, and that is not the point. This is a well-written, compelling story of guilt, justice, identity, forgiveness, coming of age, and coming to terms. The author does an excellent job of peeling back the layers of consequences and the need for forgiveness that one reckless act carries in its wake. Secondary characters are drawn well, and Luke’s voice rings true. The whole novel is a play on the term “free radical,” defined as “cell-destroying oxidizers” that eat away at our bodies and drag us down, akin to Mary Margaret’s guilt. The novel closes with a brilliant metaphor for how Luke manages his crisis of identity. He realizes he is like the sandhill cranes flying overhead in a V formation, the leaders switching position from time to time. “Once when I was little, Mom had told me, ‘That’s how they survive. They take turns flying into the wind.’ ” Luke sees that it’s his turn now to fly into the wind, and he is doing it with the help of friends and family. An excellent angle on the Vietnam War and its legacy. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: March 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-11134-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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Without that frame, this would have been a fine addition to the wacked-out summer-camp subgenre.

I HAVE A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS

Survival camp? How can you not have bad feelings about that?

Sixteen-year-old nerd (or geek, but not dork) Henry Lambert has no desire to go to Strongwoods Survival Camp. His father thinks it might help Henry man up and free him of some of his odd phobias. Randy, Henry’s best friend since kindergarten, is excited at the prospect of going thanks to the camp’s promotional YouTube video, so Henry relents. When they arrive at the shabby camp in the middle of nowhere and meet the possibly insane counselor (and only staff member), Max, Henry’s bad feelings multiply. Max tries to train his five campers with a combination of carrot and stick, but the boys are not athletes, let alone survivalists. When a trio of gangsters drops in on the camp Games to try to collect the debt owed by the owner, the boys suddenly have to put their skills to the test. Too bad they don’t have any—at all. Strand’s summer-camp farce is peopled with sarcastic losers who’re chatty and wry. It’s often funny, and the gags turn in unexpected directions and would do Saturday Night Live skits proud. However, the story’s flow is hampered by an unnecessary and completely unfunny frame that takes place during the premier of the movie the boys make of their experience. The repeated intrusions bring the narrative to a screeching halt.

Without that frame, this would have been a fine addition to the wacked-out summer-camp subgenre. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8455-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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PEAK

Dare-devil mountain-climber Peak Marcello (14), decides to scale the Woolworth Building and lands in jail. To save him, his long-lost Everest-trekking dad appears with a plan for the duo to make a life in Katmandu—a smokescreen to make Peak become the youngest person in history to summit Mount Everest. Peak must learn to navigate the extreme and exotic terrain but negotiate a code of ethics among men. This and other elements such as the return of the long-lost father, bite-size chunks of information about climbing and altitude, an all-male cast, competition and suspense (can Peak be the youngest ever to summit Everest, and can he beat out a 14-year-old Nepalese boy who accompanies him?) creates the tough stuff of a “boys read.” The narrative offers enough of a bumpy ride to satisfy thrill seekers, while Peak’s softer reflective quality lends depth and some—but not too much—emotional resonance. Teachers will want to pair this with Mark Pfetzer’s Within Reach: My Everest Story (1998). (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-202417-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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