Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thunder Cave - Roland Smith

Summary: After 14 year old Jacob Lansa's mother is killed in an accident, he flees his New York City home to try and find his Dad, a wildlife biologist studying and trying to protect elephants in a remote part of Kenya. Although he has already learned much about survival and wildlife biology from survival school and his Hopi father and grandfather, Jacob must still struggle and learn as he faces challenges from thieves, lions, poachers, heat and drought. With the help of Supeet, a Masai wise man, Jacob does manage to find his father, foil the poachers and save the elephants. The novel, with its likable hero and fast-paced excitement is a very good survival story, with interesting information about Kenya's recent problems, Masai culture and elephant behavior skillfully interwoven into the plot. (Picture from Powell's Books and summary from Barnes and Noble.)

My Review: Jake wants more than anything to make it to Africa and find his father. His life comes crumbling down one afternoon when he learns his mother was killed by a car while on a run. His step father decides to ditch him for work out of the country, running from his grief over his deceased wife. It's either move out of state with relatives he doesn't like or find his father. His father is tracking elephants in Africa and attempting to keep them safe from poachers. No one has had contact with him months. This doesn't deter Jake from making the trek. With amazing ingenuity, he manages to scrounge up the money, the passport, and fly to Africa.

Once there he again beats the odds, avoids mishap, and danger enough to survive. He is saved from near dysentery-induced-death by happen-stance; a Masai finds and nurses him back to health. For me, there are too many coincidences for survival to make the story realistic. Jake is brash and bull-headed. He has more than one run-in with poachers who almost take his life. I dislike the message this sends kids, but I also realize it's realistic of what kids think they can do. Kids do believe they're invincible and Jake portrays this honestly. He didn't think everything through very thoroughly and thankfully, for his sake, makes it out ok.

There is wonderful imagry and literary devices throughout the book. This, along with the adventure and exposure to Africa, make it a good read. When teaching my students I try to point out his illogical thinking, but also talk about all the fascinating survival techniques he uses and learns. We talk about animals, resources, and how to use them responsibly. I'd have to say for Children's literature it captures the male and female audience alike. Finding books that truly keep the male young adult reader can be difficult and this book manages that. The pacing and excitement are spot-on.

Rating: 4 Stars. A good read. Definitely captivates, but not my favorite story.

Sum it up in one phrase: An adventure from the beginning and although unrealistic, very entertaining.

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