Top positive review
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Fantastic teen literature
on August 17, 2000
And also an awful lot of fun for this adult!
Exactly the kind of story I loved as a child, and still love now - kids out in the adult-world braving themselves against nature and most importantly, against their own fears and insecurities. The story is, of course, exciting - a trip to Antarctica in 1909 when such trips were not so easy. The author's realistic use of marine language, situations, and technology of the time adds to the authenticity of the story.
What I appreciate so much about it, and what always drew me in as a child to stories like these, is that the youth in the story are not just helpless ignorant children, nor are they brainy super-kids that never seem to be wrong. They are very real teens - struggling with who they are and with their family and who and what is their sense of authority. In the course of the story, they learn and grow. Yes, they end up sometimes saving the day, but not in a trite way - when they save the day it is because they have grown past a fear, or grown into a sense of confidence in their own self, and taken a big psychological chance by expressing their authority, and that makes the situation real to the reader, and also shows the reader, especially the children readers for whom the book is intended, that what they are experiencing in their lives is real, and scary, and sometimes terrible, but that they can grow beyond it, and they can have hope that they will go beyond who they are now. Giving youth a sense of hope, and a sense that they are smart enough and good enough to make it in the world, and also showing them they will learn and grow into adulthood is so important, and books like this are great helpers.
Although he book is written with a vocabularly and a sentence structure geared toward younger readers, the author does not "dumb down" to youth level, which is great. It's an awfully quick read for an adult, quicker even than Harry Potter prose, but for a youth, it's gotta be just about right - long enough to challenge, not so long that the child reader will get bogged down in detail and become completely lost in the narrative.
I also appreciate the reality of it. Some reviewers have commented that it's maybe a little too realistic or grim or dark, but come on people - it's life. I'm glad my parents didn't feel the need to "protect" me, leaving me to grow into a functional adult human being. I'm glad Lerangis had the courage to include the scene of a man having his gangrenous feet axed off and of dogs dying in the cold, etc. Kids aren't stupid, and exposing them to real world issues isn't going to turn them into psychotics - it will turn them into normal adults who understand that a lot of stuff is dangerous, and who fear things realistically. Not that we need to add extra-realistic stuff to shock our kids, but we can't sugarcoat the world for them, either. People who are frostbit get their parts cut off. Dogs and people die in the cold. Ships get smashed by ice. People fall overboard. Sometimes people walk off into the snow, and are never seen again.
Two last quick notes: I am glad that Lerangis popped in some Greek from the Greek character. Not in a way that the reader will have to know it to understand the story, but it adds a bit more realism, and I think showing the young English reader some foreign words is helpful to broaden their horizons. I am also glad that he included a few literature references - he mentions the teen characters reading Jack London and some other actually existing meat-world writings, which will hopefully drive the reader to the library or bookstore. What a great (perhaps sneaky?) way to expose young readers to our great literature. The teen characters are also shown reading other books in order to learn about Antarctica, how to navigate, and to learn other things they will need for the trip.
Lerangis' last pages in the book are a rarity: a bibliography (in a child's book!) and a list of web-page resources about Antarctica and about the original adventurers who first set foot on it's icy fields of blowing death.
A great book, certainly appropriate for younger readers. I'm very impressed, and will be passing this on to my young relatives. (great job, Peter!)