Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rocket Man, by Jan L. Coates

As an unremarkable eight-grade student and the middle child in a busy family, Bob “the Blob” Prescott feels almost like he’s turned into Mr. Invisible.  Even when Bob’s out on the court playing the game that he loves, he’s constantly overshadowed by the basketball legends of his father and his older brother James.  When Bob finally earns himself a backup spot on the Division 1 team, his accomplishments just don’t seem to matter much in comparison to his Dad’s long battle with cancer.  At the height of the basketball season, Bob’s put to the ultimate test when he agrees to design a charity basketball game in order to raise money for cancer research.  Will he be able to succeed in the spotlight, or is Bob doomed to remain “Mr. Invisible” forever?

One thing that I really enjoyed about “Rocket Man” is how the book relies very heavily on the sport of basketball as a setting, but the actual story itself is about the relationships between the characters.  This is not a book about basketball, even though the sport is something that has always served to bring Bob, his father and his brother closer together.   Whenever the Prescott men have to deal with things that are kind of difficult to talk about, they use pick-up games of basketball as a way to bond without having to say a single word.  In the same way, using the sport of basketball as a setting for a strong, emotional narrative is a great way to draw in a reading audience of young men.  There’s some very cool storytelling going on here, guys!

There’s no way that I’m going to give away the ending in this review, but I really appreciated the way the author kind of left things open.   There are very few things in life that we can really be certain, so I appreciated the “realistic” feeling that the book left me with.  We’re all going to face different kinds of challenges, but what really matters is how we respond to them.  Bob might not be able to do a whole lot about his Dad’s fight with cancer, but he is doing everything within his power to be supportive and strong.  Sometimes, even when a set of circumstances might be completely beyond your control, it’s still possible to make an impact in a way that you never could have imagined…

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Shipwreck Island, by S.A. Bodeen

One of the neat things about adventure stories is that a lot of them involve the same basic plot, at least at the beginning.  From “Robinson Crusoe” to “The Swiss Family Robinson” to the television show “Gilligan’s Island” and the movie “Castaway”, fictional characters have been getting stranded on deserted islands for literally hundreds of years.  While the basic premise might be the same, each character’s circumstances are slightly different, which can make each story awesome in its own way.  The latest stranded-on-a-desert-island epic comes from award-winning author S.A. Bodeen, and she does a great job of continuing this tradition of adventure.

Sarah Robinson has enough to deal with when her widower father, John, decides to get married again.  His new wife Yvonna moves in with her two sons, Marco and Nacho, and the kids have a difficult time getting used to one another.  In an attempt to bring all the kids together, John and Yvonna decide to take them along on their vacation to Tahiti.  It’s a great idea, but the plan quickly falls apart when their “luxury cruise liner” turns out to be a rickety old boat.  To make matters worse, the Robinson family is sailing into a monster storm.  You can pretty much guess what happens next…but you’ll have no idea what’s waiting for the Robinson family when they become stranded!  

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but this adventure story quickly turns into a mystery with a lot of suspense.  My impression is that “Shipwreck Island” is going to turn into a series of adventure novels, so here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor by reading the first book when it comes out this month.  On another note, I really appreciated the way that the author chose to write her story about a blended family with kids from different parents.  But even though the author is portraying a “modern” family, I thought it was so cool that she followed in Johann David Wyss’ footsteps by giving her family the last name of Robinson!  Way to go, Ms. Bodeen!    

One last thing I feel I should mention:  a lot of people might question why I chose to review this book when the character who gets the most attention is actually a girl!  Please try to remember that this project wasn’t necessarily designed to highlight books about boys, but to find books that boys like.  If you keep an open mind going into this one, I guarantee you’ll agree with me that Sarah Robinson would be a pretty awesome friend to be stranded with…even if she is a girl!

For more information on S.A. Bodeen’s other books, be sure to check out her website.