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Friday, January 24, 2014

My Conflicted Review of Jean Craighead George's "Frightful's Mountain"

George, Jean Craighead  (1999) Frightful's Mountain.  New York:  Scholastic



There are a lot of classic adolescent and young adult books that I have not read, and so now and then I try to get caught up.  Frightful's Mountain is the third book in the series that George began with My Side of the Mountain.  One of the things that struck me when I read this was how different the pacing used to be in young adults books.  Now almost all of them hit the ground running and are non-stop thrills, mystery, cleaver humor and so on.  This book takes its time getting going.  It isn't dull or uninteresting, it is just that George spends some time introducing us to the characters and the setting and it isn't until halfway through the book that the plot really starts to kick in.  The first half of the book reminds me of this classic film they used to show us every other year when I was in elementary school -- "Paddle to the Sea".  In that film (which follows a toy boat as follows melt-water streams to rivers, lakes, and eventually the sea), everything that happens seems more or less random.  There is no agency in the film -- no character with the will or ability to act.  The first half of Frightful's Mountain  feels a bit like that (or maybe it isn't that the characters don't have the ability or will to act -- maybe it is more that, because of their reverence for nature, they chose not to act.

By the middle of the book, though, we are drawn into an interesting story about a nesting falcon, a state mandated bridge repair, a group of people trying to save the nesting falcons, and a pair of poachers.  From there the story runs strong to the end.

Well, except there are moment when it feels like we are getting a lecture about the balance of nature.  I wanted to tell the author to relax -- I got the point.  Having said that, this would be a good book to read in connection with a middle school or high school biology class.

This is a classic book and remains a good choice for fifth and sixth grade and up.  If you have a student or two who need a rest from the fast-paced adolescent novels of today, hand them a copy of Frightful's Mountain and see what happens. 

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