Peak, by Roland Smith, is a YA book I wouldn't have read if it hadn't been nominated for the Cybils Awards. Not that I only read books that are pink, but I am drawn more to books about girls, and the only girls here are two six-year old twins who get very little page time. However, there Peak was, fresh from its publisher (Harcourt Children's Books--thanks!), and after spending about a week's worth of reading in American high school settings, a book about a teenager climbing Mount Everest seemed, as it were, a breath of cool air.
Peak is a 14 year old New Yorker, the child of two great mountain climbers (now divorced), with a penchant for climbing himself. There being rather few mountains in New York city, he practices on sky scrappers, and as the book opens, he is about to complete one of his trickiest climbs yet. But he gets caught, the media gets a hold of his exploits, and another kid is killed trying to copy him. Getting Peak out of New York seems like a good idea to both parents, so his father (who organizing climbs up Everest) whisks him off to the Himalayas, and basically says--Son, you will be the youngest person to ever reach the top.
What follows is Peak's journal about training for the climb, enduring a great deal of cold boredom, and the fits and starts process of making it up the mountain. At the same time, he's doing some hard thinking about his relationships with his family, and about the people with whom he is climbing (in particular Sun-jo, a Nepalese boy a few days younger). The ending is satisfying, and the journey is educational for both Peak and the reader.
I don't know a darn thing about mountain climbing, but it seemed to me that Smith knows his stuff--at least he convinced me with his wealth of detail about the people and process of climbing Everest. There's also a dollop of geography and history here too. I like this sort of thick description in a book--when well done, as it is here (ie not heavy handed, intrusive, and condescending)it makes a story that has been told many times before (boy grows up when faced with physical challenge) fresh and rewarding.
Here's a link to Roland Smith's website, for more reviews and information. His new book, Elephant Run, sounds pretty good too...It will, however, have to wait while I read the 85 or so books nominated for the YA Cybils Award that I haven't read yet.