Friday, August 5, 2011

It's Elementary: A review of Wildfire Run

I'm getting back on task!  Here is a review of Dee Garretson's debut novel, Wildfire Run.
Checkouts: Not owned by the library
Typical reader: Adventurous boys, mid- to upper-elementary

Synopsis: Luke Brockett, the son of the president of the United States of America, is on vacation at Camp David with a friend and his entourage of Secret Service agents when a wildfire spreads, threatening their very lives.  Luke, Theo, and interloper Callie must use their wits to escape after the agents are incapacitated or are on the other side of the security fences.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

What brought me to read this book was social networking at its best.  I entered a Goodreads drawing for Dee Garretson's second book, Wolf Storm, which will be published next month.  I haven't won anything yet, but I enter the drawings in hopes of getting books to review and to add to the school library.  My Goodreads account is connected to Twitter (jdholmangldl), and when I added the book to my "to-read" list, this was shared on Twitter.  Ms. Garretson tweeted to me, hoping that I enjoy the book!  So, happily shocked that an author was so personable (Jonathan Maberry is as well), I went and found her first book, Wildfire Run.

There are elements of this book that are really strong.  First, it has a lot of appeal to the target audience.  There's adventure, suspense, science, robots, presidential children, and kids using their wits in a situation where there are no adults to help.  That's all great for the average reluctant reader, or even the average boy.  Second, the pacing is very good, especially in the beginning.  I felt like the lead-up to when the people at Camp David discovered the approaching fire was as good as any adult suspense novel (though definitely aimed at a younger audience).  Third, Luke and his former pal Callie are well-rounded, believable characters.  Fourth, as one can find out from the book jacket and the author's note, Ms. Garretson did her research on everything.  The details of Camp David are fictional, of course, but she and her children actually tested the solutions to obstacles Luke and his companions faced.  Mega kudos!

Unfortunately, there are also parts that fell flat.  The strengths outweigh them, but there was a point in the book where I felt the suspension of disbelief shatter.  There are some things in this novel that just ... no.  I don't want to spoil anything, but some events leading up to Luke's separation from his agents and/or their incapacitation were a bit shaky, and then there's this part where the "perfect storm" just seemed too out there.  The level of incompetence in the adults versus the problem-solving skills is unreal.  And speaking of unreal, Luke's friend Theo is out of this world.  His knowledge is too vast, and too adult.  If you take the different parts of his repertoire separately, it's believable; I have some students obsessed with some of his interests like ancient warfare and robotics.  Taken all together, with a knowledge of Latin phrases and who the heck Virgil was and what can be attributed to him ... no.

The negatives could possibly be chalked up to the fact that I'm roughly 20 years older than the intended audience.  I'm sure at least some kids would think it's cool that Luke and his friends can do so much on their own, and tweens will be approaching that age where adults don't know anything, anyway.  But for me, some of it was just beyond what I could believe.

Would I recommend this book?  To certain audiences, sure.  The writing is solid, the main characters real, and the research put into the book admirable.

Next up: On the subject of Presidential kids, I have a book for the school library that was selected by President Obama for his daughters when he visited this city last winter!  The author generously signed and donated a copy for the library, so I simply must share this book with the world.  Stay tuned for Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River by Gretchen Preston!

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