Background: Leepike Ridge was selected for the Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade Fiction this year. The blurb on the Cybils site, written by Kate Messner, started with: "Leepike Ridge is a book for every kid (and every grown kid) who played in refrigerator boxes, caught critters in the woods, and floated down creeks on homemade rafts." This intrigued me (I remember well the box from our full-size freezer), not to mention catching the eye of the man of my house, a former fort-builder and intrepid neighborhood explorer. So I sought out a copy from the ever-generous Random House. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
Review: Leepike Ridge, written by N. D. Wilson, is a solidly written middle grade adventure story, filled with engaging details for readers of all ages. The writing is slightly tongue-in-cheek, and draws the reader in from the very first lines:
"In the history of the world there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it. Most people will tell you that the once upon a time happened in a land far, far away, but it really depends on where you are." (Page 1)
So begins the story of a boy named Tom, who sets out, in a fit of rebellion against a potential step-father, on a home-made raft down a small river. The river draws Tom beneath a ridge of rock, and he finds himself trapped in a series of caves below a mountain. While adventures ensue for Tom within the caves, his mother, Elizabeth, faces down villains at home.
The beauty of this book is that although the adventures are a bit over the top, they never stray quite into the land of fantasy. This is Indiana Jones for 11-year-olds, with trappings ranging from dead bodies to juice boxes. N. D. Wilson, a father of four, knows what kids, and the kid inside all of us, will find exciting. Young Tom is a realistic hero - sometimes resolute, and sometimes afraid, but always, eventually, moving forward. Elizabeth, too, despite moments of despair, is a fighter. There's also a grouchy neighbor named Nestor who is an unexpected delight.
I think that Wilson strikes an excellent balance between keeping the plot moving forward, and giving the reader enough description to clearly imagine the characters and setting. It's obvious that he reveres the best aspects of a rural childhood - the joy of exploration and the appreciation of nature. Here are a few of my favorite examples of Wilson's writing:
"Tom had traveled around the sun eleven times when the delivery truck brought his mother's newest fridge, but a number doesn't really describe his age. His father had been gone for three years, and that made him feel older. He was the sort of boy who had many friends when he was at school, but what they knew about him was limited to his freckles, brown hair, long arms, and the clenched determination that settled onto his face when he was angry or competing." (Page 3)
"Occasionally he could see his house, perched on top of the rock, and occasionally the whole world would disappear and he would be left with nothing but the trunk and branches of a willow and a nest full of noisy birds hanging out over the slow water." (Page 6)
"After a few mouthfuls of moon-flavored air, even the stubbornly drowsy can find themselves wide-eyed. Tom was hardly drowsy, and he took more than a few mouthfuls. By the time he had reached the base of the rock, his senses were heightened nearly to the point of bursting." (Page 17)
After that, I stopped flagging passages, because I was so caught up in the story. I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers and up, for anyone who enjoys a bit of adventure. Leepike Ridge has a classic adventure story feel to it. In fact, I wonder if Tom's name in Leepike Ridge is an homage to another Tom who also was trapped in a series of caves... In any event, I strongly encourage teachers and librarians to try this one out on young readers. I think it's going to be a hit.
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Lines ... in pleasant places, Kate Messner, The Book Club Shelf, Shelf Elf, Semicolon, Abby (the) Librarian, Emily Reads, Becky's Book Reviews, A Fuse #8 Production, Fairrosa's Reading Journal, Becky Levine (and doubtless others)
Author Interviews: Novel Journey
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