Book Review: “Peak” by Roland Smith

What’s the most random job you’ve ever had?

One of the most random jobs I’ve had is working as a belayer at children’s parties. A belayer is someone who is there for safety while another person is rock-climbing; the rope runs through their belay device and they make sure everything is secure and safe for the person up in the air. I’m terribly afraid of heights and don’t enjoy rock climbing myself, so this was definitely a strange job for me to have. That being said, I think it’s fascinating to learn about people who do it professionally! And I wish I weren’t so afraid of it.

While mountaineering and rock climbing certainly aren’t the same thing, there are definitely some similarities. I was worried when I started reading Peak that I wouldn’t have too much interest in it. I’m afraid of heights, don’t have much knowledge of climbing of any kind, and don’t typically read books of the adventure genre. However, this book was such a pleasant surprise! I learned so much about mountaineering, and found the story really uplifting as well.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Peak” is an adventurous middle grade novel about a young boy named Peak who joins his father in an attempt to climb Mount Everest. Supporting details about mountaineering are naturally and seamlessly embedded throughout the novel, making it easy for children (and adults without mountaineering expertise!) to follow along and be engaged with what’s happening. While the mountaineering aspect of the novel was exciting and fascinating, Peak’s personal growth and family relationships were what truly shined in this story. I loved the portrayal of his family dynamic, especially regarding his step father and his biological father, and how his perspectives on these relationships change throughout. Peak is an uplifting, informative, and exciting adventure novel full of heart and mountaineering! I’d recommend it for children and adults alike.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“Peak” by Roland Smith
Peak (Peak Marcello Adventure Series #1) by Roland Smith, Paperback |  Barnes & Noble®
  • Year of Publication: 2007
  • Genre: Adventure (Middle Grade)
  • Summary:

The only thing you’ll find on the summit of Mount Everest is a divine view. The things that really matter lie far below. – Peak Marcello

After fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello is arrested for scaling a New York City skyscraper, he’s left with two choices: wither away in Juvenile Detention or go live with his long-lost father, who runs a climbing company in Thailand. But Peak quickly learns that his father’s renewed interest in him has strings attached. Big strings. As owner of Peak Expeditions, he wants his son to be the youngest person to reach the Everest summit–and his motives are selfish at best. Even so, for a climbing addict like Peak, tackling Everest is the challenge of a lifetime. But it’s also one that could cost him his life.

Roland Smith has created an action-packed adventure about friendship, sacrifice, family, and the drive to take on Everest, despite the incredible risk. The story of Peak’s dangerous ascent—told in his own words—is suspenseful, immediate, and impossible to put down.

Format: Paperback

Themes/Main Ideas: Family is everything. Don’t let your passions become obsessions. True friends are worth sacrificing for. You can’t change other people. We’re capable of more than we know.

Character Development: I thought the character development in this story was really well done. Peak (the main character) grows a lot throughout the story, and I felt like this development happened at a realistic pace. It builds slowly as he experiences different things and develops his relationships with other characters, which I really appreciated. One character that didn’t grow too much until the very end of the story (and even then only a little bit), was Peak’s biological father. However, I actually really like that this was the case. Peak has to learn that, sometimes, the people you care about the most aren’t going to treat you how you deserve to be treated, and you can’t change who they are. He discovers that he doesn’t have to be okay with this treatment, but he can accept who his father is and prioritize his relationships with people who will give him the love and attention that he deserves. Once he’s able to make this decision for himself, we start to see a small change in his father, which is great! I believe this is a series, so I hope the development of this character continues in later books.

Plot/Pacing: The pacing of this book was great! The short chapters make it really hard to put down. Also, it easily could have gotten repetitive when going through the acclimatization process at Everest, but the author managed to keep things engaging all throughout the story.

Writing Style: I really enjoyed the writing style of this book. It’s written from the first person point of view of Peak, and it’s structured like his journal. I loved how self-aware the narrator was. He had such a strong voice and, since the journal was being written as an assignment for school, he even refers to certain writing techniques that he’s learned as he uses them. That makes this a great expert model to use in a classroom!

“Bingeability”: High. It’s exciting and intense, and the short chapters make it easy to read large portions at a time.

Emotional Investment: High. I found myself really rooting for him to make it to the top of Everest! The minor characters were also really likeable and easy to connect with.

Windows and Mirrors: Mountaineering. Step-parents. Youths getting in trouble with the law. Everest. Privilege.

Overall Thoughts: I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would. There were very few things I didn’t like! In the beginning, Peak climbs a skyscraper and tags it with graffiti, which lands him in a juvenile detention center. His family immediately gets him a lawyer and is working to get him out of facing any severe consequences. It doesn’t seem like too big of a deal, but after another child tries to copy his stunt and dies, it becomes clear why they’re trying to make an example of his case. However, his family pulls some strings, and they end up sneaking Peak out of the country so that the media frenzy can die down. There’s also a fine, but the judge states that they’ll get the money back after a certain amount of time assuming Peak stays out of trouble. The intense privilege of the situation just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. It made me think of Punching the Air (review HERE), in which a young black boy was falsely accused of a crime and ended up stuck in a juvenile detention facility for an extended period of time. And yet Peak actually broke the law and didn’t end up having to face any terrible consequences. It’s not surprising that it happened, but it just kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

My only other small gripe was just how petty Peak was at times. He sometimes would even wish sickness or other misfortunes on his friend just because they were both trying to break the world record for the youngest person to summit Everest. He definitely grows out of this later in the story, but it just seemed a little over the top to me.

That being said, part of the reason I rated this as high as I did is because of the ending. It actually managed to surprise me! I enjoy reading middle grade books, but I often find them predictable (since they’re written for a much younger target audience). However, this ending actually truly caught me off guard in the best way.

Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book for children and adults alike. It’s an exciting story that’s sure to hook young readers (especially resistant readers), and it does a great job exploring a topic (mountaineering) that is likely unfamiliar to many young readers. This would be a great choice for a book club/novel study/literature circle. It would also be a great expert model for narrative writing since the narrator is so self-aware. Additionally, it would be a great expert model for how authors use context clues to help readers figure out unfamiliar words (especially in the first couple chapters). Much of the vocabulary surrounding mountaineering is very content-specific, and the author does a great job incorporating context clues to help readers figure it out without taking away from the story.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Year of Publication: 2007
Genre: Adventure (Middle Grade)
Summary: Young boy climbs Mount Everest! Will he make it to the summit?
Themes/Main Ideas: Family. Friendship. Passion. Sacrifice. Change. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Character Development: Fantastic!
Exciting throughout with short chapters that make it hard to put down.
Emotional Investment:
Windows and Mirrors:
Mountaineering. Step-parents. Youths getting in trouble with the law. Everest. Privilege.
Overall Thoughts:
Surprisingly good! A couple minor gripes with portrayal of privilege in the justice system (though accurate, the privilege goes unacknowledged) and some petty behavior, but a great story with an ending that is not predictable.
Recommendation: Yes
4.5 out of 5 stars

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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