CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006
Vertical Limits, the sixth novel in author Pam Withers’ “Take It to the Xtreme” series, sends the series’ 15-year-old protagonists, Peter and Jake, to the Bugaboo Mountains, just west of the Canadian Rockies. Peter has a fear of heights and, therefore, he does “bouldering” which never involves the use of ropes or climbing above eight feet. Jake, on the other hand, loves climbing high walls and is eager to do his first solo climb on a 3,000 foot cliff face. When Gecko, an older friend of Peter and Jake’s, agrees to go climbing with the boys, their parents have no objections.
Gecko, as well as being a member of the Search and Rescue Team, is as great a mountain climber as his nickname suggests. On their way to the mountains, Gecko stops to pick up a surly, young hitchhiker who turns out to be another avid mountain climber as well as Gecko’s old neighbour, Katja. Fifteen-year-old Katja is on the run from government authorities who want to take her into custody after the recent death – by cancer – of her mother. After only one day of climbing together, Gecko is called away from the boys to help search an area about 24 miles away for a lost seven-year-old boy. Gecko asks Katja, a more experienced mountaineer, to stay with Peter and Jake while he’s gone. After a day of waiting for Gecko to return, Jake decides he’ll go ahead and do his solo climb without him. The first day goes well, but, after a harrowing night Jake spends hanging off the rock face in a tent, the second day turns ugly when a thunderstorm blows up, and Jake has to take shelter from the lightening. In a tiny cave in the rock-face, he discovers a partially mummified human corpse. Seeing that Jake is in trouble, Peter and Katja find a back, walking trail up the mountain. After some heroics by both Peter and Katja, all three teens make it to the summit. On their way down the back trail, they come across the lost seven-year-old who Gecko is still off searching for. By the end of the novel, Katja has moved in with Gecko’s mother and Peter’s well-received documentary film has evolved to include the story of the corpse Jake discovered as well as Jake’s climb.
Narrated in the third person, Vertical Limits’ chapters trade off between Peter and Jake’s points of view. Peter, Jake and Katja are fairly well-rounded characters. Over the course of the adventure, all three develop some new insights and maturity. Unfortunately, the dialogue often feels somewhat forced, as in the following conversation between Gecko, Peter and Jake:
While some of the story is fairly predictable, the plot is well-paced with a number of interesting twists, such as Peter’s secretly going to a hypnotist before the mountain trip to be cured of his acrophobia, Katja’s influence on the boys, and Jake’s gruesome discovery. The story’s credibility is stretched a little too far for this reader when the teens find the lost boy who has traversed 24 mountainous miles and survived thanks to some helpful mountain goats.
Withers gives an enticing description of the Bugaboos. In her “acknowledgments,” she explains she has also done a great deal of research on the subject of climbing. This information is blended fairly well into the story, clarifying details for the uninitiated about the equipment and climbing maneuvers. Furthermore, Jake, an extensive reader of mountaineering books, and Katja relate many interesting and true tales of climbers past and present.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children’s stories.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.