Peak by Roland Smith Review

Hello! I hope everyone is having a nice holiday season! I’ve been spending my time off reading (very slowly). I managed to find a book several weeks back that was buried behind a stack of books in the Young Adult Fiction aisle at Barnes & Noble, Roland Smith’s Peak.

I was immediately drawn in by the cover of the book, which features two photos taken by real-life climbers of Mount Everest, which is fitting since the book is about a fourteen-year-old boy named Peak (everyone in the book agrees this is a stupid name for a human), who climbs to the top of the world.peak_cover

Now here’s the thing, the book isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a creative book, with lots of research done on the topic, and with a story that I can really get behind. I just wish there was more to it. Some of the characters are pretty one-dimensional, and a good chunk of the plot that would normally have been really emotional was cut short or left unexplained.

Peak (still a stupid name) is a young kid who climbs skyscrapers in New York City. His step-dad is a wealthy business man, his mom is an ex-mountain climber, and he has two young twin sisters that they all call “the Peas.” His dad, a famous mountain climber, hasn’t spoke to or seen Peak in over seven years. But when Peak comes into trouble when he’s caught climbing  the Woolworth Building – I mean, really dude? – his dad mysteriously appears offering him the chance to leave America and go to Chiang Mai for a little more than three years, until he’s eighteen, where Josh’s office is.

I should probably mention that the judge involved in this case very much wants to convict Peak because unfortunately there was a copy-cat the next day, a young kid who attempted to climb a skyscraper and fell to his death. Josh’s offer is accepted by the judge, because otherwise the judge will sentence him to three years in a juvenile detention center, and while that’s good news for the family who lost a son, and for the judge, it also brings on a lot of publicity and a lot of issues from Peak’s very affluent and powerful step-father.

What Peak and the rest of his family does not know, is that Josh (Peak’s dad insists that he calls him Josh since they don’t even really know each other) has an ulterior motive: to have Peak reach the summit of Mount Everest before his fifteenth birthday just a several weeks away. Why? Because apparently his company is in an extraordinary amount of debt, and the best way to make money is to get on camera the youngest person ever to climb Mount Everest – who just so happens to be his son, and in Josh’s company’s climbing party.

Issue #1:

Peak barely seems phased at all by this. His actions have spurred a kid to attempt doing something extremely dangerous – which is bad enough, except that that kid died! Peak justifies it by saying that he didn’t tell this guy to do it, he did it on his own. His mother attempts to get it into her son’s head saying that this actions are a direct correlation to this kid’s death, but Peak almost doesn’t seem to understand.

At the end of the novel, Peak maybe? kinda? sorta? understands it a little bit better, but he still seems more upset by the dead people he finds frozen on the mountain than he does by the person who imitated him and fell to his death. Dat’s fucked up.

Issue #2:

Peak doesn’t even seem mad that Josh is using him. In fact, he brings the issue up to Josh who of course brushes it off, and that’s a-okay with Peak! And even after asking Josh whether or not he would have come to help him in NYC if it weren’t for the fact that he was fourteen and not fifteen (and thus, would not have been eligible as the youngest person to climb Everest) and gets blatantly no, he not only still goes along with his dad, but also still seemingly wants his approval.

At this point I still felt bad for Peak – he was just finding out some deep things about his dad and I can imagine that’s very hard for a young kid who has only ever wanted his father’s attention. But as the story progresses, more information comes from his dad: he had a backup plan in case Peak didn’t make it to the summit so he would still make money, he had received the letters Peak sent when he was a kid and just never replied because he didn’t want to, he never actually told Peak’s mom that he took Peak to Everest, and when Peak tells her himself Josh blows up at Peak, etc. And still this kid seems to not care. He gets frustrated for an hour or so, but then it blows over. No! No, no, no!!

I waited through the entire book to hear Peak give Josh a piece of his mind, and it never happened. Actually, at the end Peak realizes how much he just doesn’t care about his biological father and that’s that. No! I mean good for him for making that realization, because no one should have people in their lives that don’t care about their wellbeing, but at the same time my patience level with Peak had plummeted HARD.

Issue #3:

When Peak decides he’s going to go with his dad in Chiang Mai, his mom barely seems sad at all. She’s still angry with him for doing something so stupid – and I think we can all agree that climbing a giant building in the middle of the night for the sole intention of graffitiing the the top of it is pretty fucking stupid. But even as they’re in the airport waving him off, there’s a hug and slight dialogue, and then off to the adventure.

Now I’m not a mother, but I am a dog mom, and I know that even if I’m angry at my dog for peeing on the floor or scratching me trying to beg for food that if I had to send him off for any stretch of time, I would be distraught. I would be falling apart. I have a hard enough time leaving him to go on vacation for two nights even though I know he’s in wonderful hands. And that’s a dog child. Not a human child that someone birthed.

I just feel like the way Smith wrote his mother into the story was too forced – almost unfeeling. Generally if a character is upset the author will draw you that picture. In this case it was more like, ‘I’m leaving to Chiang Mai.’ ‘I know. Be good.’ ‘I will.’ ‘I’ll miss you.’ ‘You too.’

I mean, say what? No tears? No heartfelt goodbyes? What is this? It’s almost like Smith didn’t know how to portray a female character and the proper emotions she should have had leaving her son for three years. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I really think maybe he doesn’t know how to portray a female character. There are four females in this novel: the mother, the two twin sisters who are both like six or seven years old, and a journalist who is really only there to be this shrill obnoxious person who annoys everyone around her. Every other character in the entire book is a man. Hmm.

Issue #4:

The parts of the plot that explain why a person behaves the way they do, or explains what a person has gone through in life, are not elaborated on. For example, Josh was saved by a Sherpa the year previously, and the Sherpa died saving him. So that backup plan I mentioned was actually that Sherpa’s son. But there wasn’t a lot of elaboration. They didn’t really go over in a lot of detail what happened, how he managed to save Josh, why that guy went to save him, etc. I’m sure you’re just supposed to infer that the Sherpa thought it was the right thing to do and saved him, and faced lots of hardships getting down the mountain, but I wanted those details! Josh was still alive, and obviously knows what happened on the mountain – he should have explained it all.

Look, this is a short book, less than 300 pages. This guy could have easily expounded on those points and made it a far more interesting novel to read, and still made the book less than 400 pages, easily.

There’s also a part where we find out why Peak’s mom stopped mountain climbing. I wanted more information! I want to know exactly what happened. But we don’t get that. It’s a short conversation between Peak and his mother, and again it’s fairly unfeeling. I want more!

I don’t want to say that everything is bad in this because it was a fun read. I really enjoyed reading a climbing Mt Everest story, which I don’t think I’ve ever done. And I really loved the idea of the story – the plot itself of a kid who has a limited amount of time to get up the hardest mountain to climb in the world. Of a kid who has an absentee dad all of a sudden in his life and telling him what to do. It’s an interesting idea and I think it has a lot of promise. I honestly just wish there was more. I think Roland Smith was spot on with the idea, but just didn’t know how to turn this into the grand novel it really could have been.

Again though, I think it was incredibly fun to read, and I honestly do want to read the second book – which features Peak several years later in the Army’s climbing unit somewhere in the Middle East. I think that sounds really cool. I’m just hoping the writing is a little more detailed.

All in all it’s a good book. I’d give it a three out of five. Not for lack of plot, but for lack detail.

If you guys have read it, or have any comments on it be sure to write your thoughts in the comments or e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com– I’m always interested to hear other people’s takes on things.

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year, and had very happy holidays!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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Book vs Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I finished Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!!! And let me tell you – it was mediocre.

Okay, let me explain: I’m a huge nerd.

I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I love everything about it. I love the books, I love the movies, the symbolism, the fan-base. Just everything. And I read the actual Fantastic Beasts book (the encyclopedia version, that came out as a two-pack with Quidditch Through the Ages, which was published in 2001) and I loved it because it opened up a world of new creatures I hadn’t known, or that had only been mentioned once or twice.

So when I heard that they were going to come out with a movie based on that book, but instead of an encyclopedia of animals, it was going to be a fictional story based on the author of that encyclopedia, Newt Scamander, I was thrilled! I’ve waited three years for this movie to come out, and it was fantastic (see what I did there? You can’t see me, but my eyebrows are moving up and down suggestively). It was incredible, and it actually blew me away.

It was an incredible movie. It was so much darker, and much more adult than the Harry Potter movies (I think the books are still just as dark and adult, but the movies never truly portrayed that dark, eerie, messed up world that Harry and his friends were journeying through). This movie was the perfect blend of character development and animal development. I found myself wanting less of the humans, and more of the creatures – but even so, I thought there was a great blend of the two.

The main character, Newt, was wonderful. He was exactly the type of antisocial, awkward, uncomfortable person that I could imagine would make a life out of studying magical creatures. I loved how awkward and how much unease he seemed to feel around humans, but how relaxed and free he felt around the creatures, and talking about the creatures. It’s this spectacular transition that I thought genuinely made this movie come to life. Newt could have been any one of us nerds. He could’ve been me, being awkward around others, with a quizzical nature towards people who want me to feel accepted …. Is this a trick? Do you actually want me here, or should I just go find a dog to pet?

The cinematics of this film were wonderful. The colors were beautiful, the CGI and 3-D animation were seamless, and the music was the perfect at every instance.

But the book. Oh God, the book.

I didn’t realize they were coming out with a screenplay of the book until maybe a week before I saw the movie. I was thrilled, though. I knew it was a screenplay, and not a novel, but I felt like the script for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Pt. 1&2 was pretty great, so why wouldn’t this screenplay be? I was wrong.

Look, there are great parts to this book: the cover is beautiful, it’s made to look like a 1920’s hardcover novel, and the interior art is absolutely stunning! It’s honestly the beautiful book I’ve ever seen in my life – no joke. But the writing is not as good. I feel horrible saying it, because I love JK Rowling so much, but the writing is subpar. ne60ri1lfofa99_2_b

It’s written in screenplay version. So it’s supposed to be written with very little detail, since the real detail should be in facial expressions, scene art, and story. But that’s the thing – this book is word-for-word the movie.

The only part that is different is the very first page, where they show Gellert Grindelwald killing a bunch of people. Every single thing afterward, including the newspaper articles from the beginning of the movie, are in there. No extra dialogue, no extra information, no extra subtext, or body language, or anything that would make me truly imagine what was going on.

In fact, I’m so happy that I watched the movie before reading this screenplay because I can guarantee I would have been like, “what the hell am I reading?” because there just wasn’t enough description of characters and animals for it to actually make sense, or for me to truly imagine what I was reading.

I saw the movie twice in theatres, once with my boyfriend, and once with the rest of my family – but honestly I feel like I watched it two and half times, and the last half just wasn’t as fun.

I’m really disappointed, actually, because I was very excited for this screenplay and I’ve NEVER disliked something that JK Rowling has written. I was skeptical when The Cursed Child came out, and I was expecting to hate it, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was still very good. This book I just don’t like at all.

I’m glad I own it for aesthetic purposes, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend reading it. I DO, however, want you to know that I am not only recommending that you see the movie, but demanding that you see the movie if you like this type of story, or are a Harry Potter nerd like myself. It’s uttertly fantastic!

The movie is obviously the clear winner in this case, so my tally is:

Book: 8, Movie: 6 

Let me know in the comments or via e-mail if you felt any differently. I don’t know if maybe I was just expecting more from the book and was just let down, or if there were other people out there who didn’t like it as much as I did.

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com