Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hobbs, Will. Go Big or Go Home. (3 stars out of 4)
ESPN has definitely changed the way people watch sports. The fantastic and ultra-extreme are rewarded with airtime and the famous refrain, “Da-da-dum, Da-da-dum.” There are more sports than ever before available for viewing, including a whole new category, Extreme Games or X-Games. The title of Will Hobbs’s new novel Go Big or Go Home comes from a t-shirt one of the characters wears, but it also describes the framework in which this novel operates. Much of what the characters say and do is framed in extreme language, and yells of “That’s extreme!” and “That’s insane!” abound. The action does not always match the language, but that does not detract from the solid plot. Mr. Hobbs is noted for action-adventure stories, and this sometimes implausible but generally entertaining story occasionally delivers the high-powered action it promises.
Fortunately, when 14-year-old Brady Steele remembers that the Perseid meteor shower is peaking, he opens his window and steps out onto the garage roof. Otherwise, he would have been crushed by an extraterrestrial visitor, a meteorite he and his cousin Quinn name Fred. At first, Fred offers great promise: “Next thing I knew Quinn was bouncing around, tossing Fred between his hands, off-the-wall excited. ‘Just think how valuable Fred might be! I mean, he’s from outer space!” (41). While the fathers of the two young men are exploring new job options outside of Brady’s home in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Brady and Quinn decide to go camping and fishing. While riding their bikes, Brady notices that he feels better than usual, and his asthma seems to be gone: “Whatever was going on, I had never felt stronger . . . That strange electrical buzz was running through me all the way to my grip on the handlebars” (50-52). Unfortunately, the meteorite falls into the wrong hands when Brady and Quinn lose it and their rivals, the Carver brothers, find it. However, Fred is a mixed blessing, because the extreme bacteria it contains is unwittingly poisoning those who come in contact with it, especially Brady, meteorite expert Dr. Ripley, and Attila, the Carvers’ dog. Dr. Ripley explains the dangers of extremophile bacteria: “The history of first contact with exotic microorganisms can be rather frightening. Consider the host of diseases that the Europeans brought to the New World, smallpox being the deadliest. On the heels of the Spanish conquest, millions upon millions of people died, up to ninety percent of the population of Mesoamerica” (110). Brady is in danger, and he may even need the Carver brothers’ help to survive his extreme infection. If he is not careful, and if his friends do not keep a solemn promise, the caves Brady and Quinn discover, the Halls of the Dead and the Palace of the Dead King, may become Brady’s and Attila’s final resting place.
I have never been to the Black Hills, so I cannot relate to descriptions or attachments to that area. However, I believe Mr. Hobbs has been there. I was occasionally distracted by the extreme language accompanying every action the boys take, including shooting hoops and eating snacks, but I never questioned that the author rode on the same trails that Quinn and Brady travel. His knowledge of the area and of sports (playing them, not overeating and watching them on TV) seems genuine and enthusiastic. More of our students (and adults) could take a lesson from the characters in this novel and get out more often. Go Big or Go Home does not deliver quite as much as its title, but it is an easy-to-read novel that features boys being boys, an activity sometimes lacking in YA literature. It is a good high-interest-lower-reading-level selection (Follett has it at 5.6) for high elementary/intermediate and middle schools.


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