Preteen angst, a blinding snowstorm, and an ice-fishing competition gone wrong add up to a dramatic life-and-death struggle for two friends in this YA adventure.
First prize for the Oneida Lake Ice Fishing Derby is an ATV and a “fully-loaded ice fishing hut.” Tanner Phillips, the tale’s 12-year-old narrator, is determined to not only win, but also to prove to his dad and the other adults in the competition that he’s not the screw-up little kid who blew it last year. But nothing goes as planned. The boy and his jittery new friend, Richie Donald, already unnerved by what they fear may be the fatal disappearance of one competitor at the hands of another, are left alone on the ice when Tanner’s dad must rush an injured contestant to the hospital. Still, Tanner refuses to give up his quest for the big walleye that will ensure his victory. CassanoLochman (God’s Light, 2018, etc.), the author of YA novels and spiritual verse, expertly wraps a mystery, a strong sense of foreboding, family woes, and the confusion, grandiosity, and resentments of early adolescence around surprisingly in-depth details about the lures, lines, gear, and subtleties of ice fishing on a cold winter morning. (“A large cloud of frozen breath billowed and curled from my nostrils,” Tanner relates. “I found comfort in the solitude and scanned the familiar shoreline….I loved this lake and knew her shoreline as well as any Oneida fisherman.”) Even readers with little interest in the sport should find it difficult to put this tense, eventful book down as one disaster follows another—injuries, lost cellphones, and a howling snowstorm rocketing the untethered ice hut across the lake onto thinning ice. The challenges to both boys’ courage and hitherto untested strengths of character ring true. And when Tanner can no longer keep up a brave front for panicky Richie’s benefit (“I want to see my mom and dad. I want to be done on this ice!”) and the roles are reversed, the tale is genuinely moving.
Edge-of-the-seat suspense and realistic portrayals of a pair of boys facing personal and elemental trials make this novel a substantial page-turner.