Last Sunday, in my part of the world, we experienced the phenomena of thundersnow, which sounds really, really cool. But it is not.
Basically, thundersnow happens during a thunderstorm when temperatures drop enough to produce snow instead of rain. So last Sunday morning, in the final week of March, I woke up to four inches of snow in my yard. It all melted by that afternoon when temperatures reached the mid-50s, but STILL.
Anyway…what I’m getting at is that Sunday was a good day to stay indoors and spend all day reading Peak by Roland Smith, which is exactly what I did.
Peak is yet another young-adult novel recommended to me by my mother the elementary school teacher, and yet another novel that I, after having read it, fervently wished I had written. The title refers to not only the main character’s name, Peak, a fourteen-year-old boy whose hobby (one might say obsession, as he climbs skyscrapers in New York City) is climbing. The title also refers to the highest point of a mountain, specifically in this novel, Mt. Everest, to which Peak’s father, a famous climber, so vehemently wishes his son to be the youngest person to ascend.
What makes this novel superior in its genre is what makes so many YA novels stand out: it’s appeal to young readers and adults alike, the thrust of its main character, an adolescent, into issues felt by every age group, and its focus on realistic characters enhanced by an intriguing plot.
The premise of the book, fourteen-year-old Peak attempting to become the youngest person to the top of Mt. Everest, is an intriguing concept in itself, and yet it is only the thread which brings together a group of characters, each with fascinating and conflicting motivations that Smith expertly reveals throughout the narrative. These motivations drive the plot. The characters create the conflict, more than the elements through which Peak must endure as he climbs the tallest mountain on Earth. (And the elements are brutal: Oxygen deprivation. Cutthroat competition. Frozen corpses. Vertical walls of ice. No bathroom facilities!!)
Peak’s father, absent through most of Peak’s life, wants the publicity that Peak’s achievement would bring to his dying company. Sun-Jo, the Tibetan son of a Sherpa who died on K2, is just six days older than Peak. If he reaches the top, his fame will attract the sponsorships needed to support his family. Zopa, a retired Sherpa and Sun-Jo’s grandfather, is a wily character. “You never know what Zopa’s real motivation is,” Peak’s father tells him. And Peak? What is his motivation? The answer is, of course, the core of this coming-of-age-novel, in which Peak figures out what he wants, and comes to better understand who he is.
This review was previously published at 1,001 Ways to Avoid Writing