________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Mountainboard Maniacs. (Take It to the Xtreme; 10)

Pam Withers.
North Vancouver, BC: Walrus Books/Whitecap Books, 2008.
224 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-978-1-55285-915-5.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ellen Wu.

**½ /4

excerpt:

He checked his watch, realized he'd better hoof it back. He checked his compass readings. It's all good, he told himself. I can't get lost with this thing on me.

Even as part of him was tempted to let the compass direct him down the mountain to someplace else--anyplace else--there was someone back at camp with a more powerful magnetic force field drawing him back. Mel.

As the sun rose over the treetops and he neared camp, he felt himself burning with resentment at Peter's last comment to him: "You've either lost it or you're a chicken, Jake. Go play Frisbee, then, if you don't have the guts to mountainboard anymore."

Jake clenched his fists and tucked his compass into his pocket. I'll show him, he vowed. There's no yellow streak in me. I'll mountainboard him into the dust today. I'll make Jarrad's mouth hang open. I'll impress Mel.

Things don't seem to matter as much to Jake Evans anymore, just at the point in time when everything related to his future at Sam's Adventure Tours should. He failed a first aid simulation test, to the disappointment of his long-time boss and mentor, Susan. A mountainboarding demonstration goes horribly wrong when a child gets injured, and Jake once again goofs and accidentally injures a parent who tries to rescue her child. Then, he and his best friend Peter, both extreme sports enthusiasts whose latest passion is mountainboarding, have to head out to Washington State's Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helen's on a training trip to prepare them as junior guides. While Jake is tentative, restless, and ridden with a sense of guilt about what he owes to the company, Peter is eager to prove himself as a guide who not only has athletic prowess, but also the knowledge base and "book-learning" required for the job, in order to win over his disapproving parents to his career path of choice.

     Two unexpected twists take place that test the limits of their friendship: Susan leaves them to the untender mercies of a hard-talking martinet of an associate, Jarrad, a newcomer to the company from Australia. Second, they are thrust into competition with each other, and two other teens, for the only two junior guide spots with the adventure tours company. It just so happens that the other candidates are a pair of lovely blonde twins, Melissa and Susanna (each with their own complicated histories), and soon it's no longer only Jake and Peter's mountain-boarding reputations that are at stake, but also their ability to impress and win the girl they admire. Jarrad goads them by splintering their solidarity to compete for their own spot, so Jake and Peter must put just as much effort into manoeuvring difficult mountain trails as they do in the even more unpredictable terrain of young love (Jake goes for quiet but intense Mel, whose lovely face is scarred by a traumatizing fire, which also claimed one of her hands, while Peter goes for the exuberant Susanna).

     Added to this maelstrom of internal conflict and teenage hormones is the oncoming threat of natural disaster as Mt. St. Helen's erupts while the boarding team is training on the trails, and the conflicts between Jake and Peter, the hostility the teens feel against Jarrad, and even romantic attachments, are thrust aside in a bid for survival. Leadership skills shine through both Jake and Peter during this crisis as the group gets separated and Jarrad ends up losing consciousness due to a concussion. The girls, too, demonstrate bravery as they put aside personal differences, and all four use their wits and resources to outlast the mountain's wrath.

     The novel is told in third-person narratives, and while it is not apparent from the first two chapters, since their focus is on Jake, the chapters in the remainder of the book alternate between the perspectives of cautious, level-headed Jake and brash, mercurial Peter. Withers not only provides the reader with strong, descriptive details about the sport of mountainboarding, and the freedom and exhilaration, and stamina needed to master a sport, but she also pays attention to the natural setting that precipitates the characters to fight for their lives in the concluding chapters of the novel. She even includes a prologue detailing the history of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption, and, in an endnote, she discloses that she and a friend had been white-water rafting on Toutle River, located on the volcano and would likely not have survived if she'd chosen to navigate the Wenatchee instead. Withers's own experiences in extreme sports and in the region in which the story unfolds allow her to render Jake, Peter, Susanna, and Melissa's story with an attuned ear to the sport's joys and challenges.

     One of Mountainboard Maniacs's strengths lies in its affable, loosely drawn characters that allow for a reader to immerse oneself vicariously in the position of the protagonists so that while character development is not necessarily deep, identification in their situations remains high, thus making for an absorbing read. One could thus argue that the series' merit, its accessibility, could also be one of its weaknesses--that at times the prose's examination of character motivation cannot quite measure up to the zippy, action-packed exposition of what the characters engage in externally. Nevertheless, this is a series worth investing in for the sake of attracting a predominantly male pre-teen and early teen readership who will find the adrenalin rush they want in the series, along with some information on the sports being highlighted in each book.

     As for Jake and Peter's fates at the end of the series, there are some unexpected surprises that makes for a satisfying conclusion to their adventures. Withers assures the reader that, as the boys enter into a new period of young adulthood, they welcome the changes that have come, changes that nevertheless leave their friendship intact and enable them to be ready to tackle whatever comes their way next.

Recommended.

Ellen Wu is currently. working on her MFA in children's literature at Hollins Univerisity and will be entering UBC's Master of Library Sciences this fall.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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