I’m beginning to wonder how the Middle Grade Judges for this year’s Cybils award are ever going to choose the winner. The more Cybils nominations I read, the more I realize that this is going to be one hot competition. It will be tough enough for us panelists to narrow the list to the finalists – exciting stuff!
N.D. Wilson’s Leepike Ridge is a remarkably statisfying, superbly written story that should get young readers – and their parents / teachers / librarians / booksellers – really excited. Normally, when someone tells you that a book is something close to an Adventure / Coming of Age / Survival tale that reads like a blend of Robinson Crusoe and The Odyssey you can safely conclude that the author took on too much and the story will come up the worse for it. Not in the hands of Mr. N.D. Wilson.
Quick intro: Thomas Hammond lives with his mom in a house right on the edge of Leepike Ridge. His dad died a few years ago, and now his mom is on the verge of remarrying. Too bad her suitor is a weirdo teacher from Tom’s school. Tom is not too happy about this, and so he grabs a giant piece of packing foam from their newly delivered fridge and floats down the river at the base of the ridge (cause what else would you do in this situation, right?) Things get interesting / terrifying when Tom gets himself sucked underground by the river as it heads under the ridge itself. What he finds under the rock is unlike anything he could have expected. Here are a few things you need to know about this book:
1) Man can this guy write. If I were to set about quoting you the most beautiful passages and turns of phrase in Leepike Ridge, I’d be here for a while. Let’s just say that there are several lines in this book that warranted a “Wow- I need to put this book down and let that image float around in my head for a moment.”
2) It’s a very visual story. The journey that Thomas experiences is a wild and strangely mysterious one, and you can see the whole thing. The book wouldn’t work half as well if Wilson wasn’t so deft with description.
3) This isn’t just a gripping adventure. The book is hiding plenty of “deeper” lessons. Lots of different kinds of kids could enjoy this book (and that’s just one reason why I think it deserves to be a finalist for the Cybils). A kid who loves nearly non-stop action will race through this book and have a blast along the way, but the kid who likes to think about complex mysteries – of the natural and human world – will walk away from Leepike Ridge with lots to mull over.
4) Did I mention that N.D. Wilson can write? Try this for some proof:
“After a few mouthfuls of moon-flavored air, even the stubbornly drowsy can find themselves wide-eyed. Tom was hardly drowsy, and he took more than a few mouthfuls. By the time he had reached the base of the rock, his senses were heightened nearly to the point of bursting. All of the normal noises of life were gone, leaving behind the secretive sounds, the shy sounds, the whispers and conversations of moss disputing with grass over some soft piece of earth, or the hummingbirds snoring…”
It is so clear that every aspect of this story was given careful thought. Leepike Ridge is a book that you can appreciate as having been crafted by its author, but not in a way that ever feels self-conscious. It just feels beautiful and complex.
Fuse calls it “an adventure novel with a soul.” I think that’s the perfect way to sum this one up. I don’t want to jinx this, but I have to wonder, have we got our winner here?
Leepike Ridge is published by Random House.