________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 25. . . .March 4th, 2011.


Gravity Check. (Orca Sports).

Alex Van Tol.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
161 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-349-8.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Rob Bittner.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



As I think about the motionsóup, down, pull, push, pumpómy body follows. My attention narrows, focusing to a sharp point. I pick up speed, and everything to the side of the track falls away. I donít see anything but the rolling dirt path ahead. I keep my head up, scanning the track, planning my route. Riding it hard. Active.

I shoot across a series of waves, gaining speed with each drop. Iím a pogo stick on a bike. My legs and arms act separately, like shock absorbers. I swoop into a berm, keeping my butt low in the saddle and pushing my rear tire into the wall. I shoot out of it and over a hump, catching air and coming down clean with both tires. With traction. In control.

Gravity Check is a fast-paced, action-packed story of two brothers who learn to be much more accepting of each other after getting kidnapped and chased by gun-wielding drug dealers. Sounds a bit too fantastic? Some authors may not be able to pull off so much in such a brief work, but Alex Van Tol is an exception in this case.

     Unlike some novels for reluctant readers, Gravity Check doesnít rely on heavy action at the expense of character development. Jamie, the narrator, and his brother, Seth, are teenagers who absolutely love biking. They donít always get along, but they have this sport in common and that is how they end up together in the wilderness, trying to protect their friends at camp from getting killed by a mysterious drug-dealer named Deuce.

     Jamie is a solid character, and his actions and reactions throughout the book are quite believable. Seth is also fairly well-rounded, with the exception of a few moments where he acts much more immature than his supposed 15 years. Their relationship is one area that could be improved and solidified, but within the context of this whirlwind plot, there is, regrettably, little time to explore that dynamic.

     Van Tol does an excellent job of keeping the story advancing quickly while still allowing the reader to catch subtle nuances of character as each of the camper/bikers get to know one another. Nolan is the brainy one who is somewhat accident prone, but who is also game to take some risks. Rico and Chase, the camp counselors, are mature for their age, and adventurous, but they arenít so macho as to avoid looking vulnerable.

     Two of the thugs who show up later in the book are almost caricatures. There is one skinny guy and one big, brutish, not-too-smart guy. They play back and forth much in the way that one would see in cartoons. This does, however, make some of Jamieís actions credible and believable as he attempts to rescue his friends from the captors.

     Gravity Check is very suitable for its audience, having been published for reluctant readers through ďOrca Sports.Ē The reading level is simple and the plot compelling as well. The only drawback for some could be the extensive use of biking terminology and the minor use of stock characters as mentioned previously.


Rob Bittner is a graduate student of Childrenís and Young Adult Literature at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

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

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