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

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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SHADOW BOXER

In the five years since their father's death from accumulated boxing injuries, 14-year-old George has earnestly taught his younger brother Monty how to fight—but not how to stop fighting; now, to his dismay (and his mother's), Monty is growing up in his dad's image, with "the heart of a lion and the head of a starfish,'' sneaking away to Uncle Archie's gym to train, going off on his own, coming home with the marks of street fights. Lynch surrounds George and Monty with a vivid tragicomic cast—from Chaz, an unwelcome Big Brother, and Nat, an unsavory building super whose only tools are a hammer and a roll of duct tape, to the horribly abused Rafkin children and their psychotic father. The subplots for each of these characters may be too neatly closed (having nerved themselves for a rescue, George and Monty charge into the Rafkin apartment only to find it empty), but they add comic interludes and build a sturdy emotional base for Monty's restless anger. This first novel, though, is less a study of the perils of violence (organized or otherwise) than a penetrating look at two close brothers—one who takes his responsibilities as man of the house too seriously, the other beginning to slip the leash. In the end, watching one of his father's gruesome bouts on film, Monty does learn that other lesson. Brutal, a little too tidy, but memorable. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-023027-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1993

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