Thursday, March 3, 2011

Peak, by Roland Smith (2007)

What's a 14 year-old boy doing trying to climb Mt. Everest? It makes more sense if both of your parents are or have been mountain climbers. Then, if they decided to name you "Peak" it makes even more sense.

Smith has written another compelling adventure story. This time the setting is the Tibet side of the mountain, controlled by the Chinese government. In writing this adventure story Smith has added in a bit of politics and quite a bit about the controversy surrounding "tourist" trips to Everest.

I first became aware of some of the Everest controversies when I read "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. It has become something of a "notch in the belt" that many adventurers desire. The down side, implied by Smith and discussed by Krakauer, is that very few of those who try these guided trips to the mountain are really physically ready to take on the challenge. "Because it is there" may not be a good enough reason to let people attempt the climb. In doing so they are damaging the fragile ecology of the mountain and putting many others' lives at risk.

Contrasted with this is the life that the Sherpas and Tibetan citizens lead. Taking these "tourist" trips to Tibet is enriching the Chinese government and allowing for the continuation of repression of the Tibetan people.

Smith further complicates all by exploring the motivations of those who guide these tours. It is quite clear by the end of the book that Smith is opposed to such ventures. Although not directly stated, I believe he takes a strong stand against the Everest Tourist business.

Added in is a great story about families. For readers who have "blended" families and are looking for models to guide their thinking/experiences--this is a good book to begin some discussion. In addition to a good book about family it also is an excellent "coming of age" story. Peak has to make several hard decisions. Smith has given the reader many opportunities to follow Peak's thinking as he works his way through these issues. Talking with any young adult about Peak's quandaries and the thinking he does to reach a decision will offer rich opportunities for discussions of important issues.

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