________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 31 . . . . April 13, 2012


Facing the Mountain.

Wendy Orr.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2011.
136 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 978-1-4431-0488-3.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Ellen Wu.

***1/2 /4



There's nothing and no one here except me.

No Lily and Scott.

No new footprints.

No Top-of-the-World Dance Rock.

No daypack sitting beside the rock waiting for me to put it back on.

And no huge rocky nose on the mountain below me. That side of the cliff is gone.

I can't believe this is where I did my happy dance and worried about my sister laughing.

I never thought of worrying about the mountain. After all, mountains are made of rock. They're very old, very strong, and very, very solid. Everyone knows that eleven-year-old girls can't break mountains.

Except I think I did.

Because what if the rock tipped because I fell, and if it slid because it tipped, and if it broke the mountain's nose because it slid?

The chill around my heart is turning into a solid block of ice. This is a cold, lonely, dangerous place and I'm getting out of here as fast as I can; slipping, skidding, falling, landing on my cut-to-shreds hands, sucking off the blood and snow.

The snow soothes my screamed-raw throat.

Raven has just moved across the country from the (relatively flat) Cottonwood Bluffs to (the definitely mountainous) Jenkins Creek. She's leaving behind her friends and the beloved familiarity of home, to become that red-headed kid who doesnít want to be so visible in a new school. She and her older, seemingly perfect elder sister Lily also have to contend with their mother remarrying. And before they can settle in, they have to go climb a mountain with their new stepfather Scott, one of those mountaineering types who can also fix just about anything.

     At first, Raven has qualms about hiking, but she starts to let the beauty of the day seep into her as she experiences awe and delight over seeing a mama bear and her two cubs. Usually the baby sibling who follows Lilyís brash lead, Raven makes it to the mountaintop first. Her little victory dance, however, causes a rock slide that plummets Raven hundreds of feet down the mountain, and Lily and Scott are now trapped beneath the rocks with no way to get out.

     What ensues for Raven is a tale of grit and survival as she races against time and against herself to save her stepfather and sister. She has no supplies, very little water, no compass, not even her eyeglasses--what guides her is a mixture of the advice her mountaineering stepfather passed along, her own intuition, and her love and loyalty for family. What keeps her company are the voices in her head of her friends, Jess and Amelia, from back home, her mother, as well as the memories of her past. Ravenís adventures include several run-ins with the mother bear and her two cubs, with whom Raven makes an emotional bond, as well as one too many detours as the sun slips behind the mountains.

     With time being critical in rescuing her family, each chapter is headed to show the hour and date of Ravenís entire ordeal that takes place in just under two harrowing days. Raven's adventures in the present are intercut with glimpses into her past, such as Ravenís ache to know who her real father is, to her initial resistance to her motherís marrying Scott, to her gradual acceptance of him into their family. Orr's mountain survival story of a likeable character who grows from a tentative young girl to one more comfortable in her own skin was an engrossing read, with an authentic first-person narrative. Orr captures with equal ease the moments of despair and hope (such as Ravenís despair over a helicopter that doesn't touch down to rescue her), and the resourceful ways she plans her family's rescue (such as Ravenís building a series of inukshuks to guide the rescuers back up the mountain to her stranded family members). The mountain wilderness is a palpably portrayed too, kind to Raven in providing her with shelter or a stray honeycomb, but at other times completely bleak, harsh, and unnavigable.

     It's not easy to engage a reader in an entire book with just one character, but Orr does so effortlessly. Raven's inner monologue that swings between self-exhortation and despair always rings true, and her eventual contact with civilization is an action-packed climax involving breaking and entering a farm house, a gallop on a stolen horse, a gun-slinging poacher, and a stampeding, angry mother bear. Orr, however, manages to steer the jarring contrast to the solitary nature of the tale thus far toward a satisfying conclusion. Raven assists in rescuing Lily and Scott, and she is also able to witness a peaceful reunion between mother bear and her cubs, so that families both human and animal are safe in the meantime. Ravenís persistence against impossible odds surprises both Raven and the reader who has high hopes that Raven's new beginning in her new home will be matched with the courage in which she faced down the mountain.

     Facing the Mountain is a refreshing read for middle schoolers who want a survival story that has a strong sense of character, not just action, with a protagonist who uses her head as she is guided by her heart to make the right decisions.

Highly Recommended.

Ellen Wu holds a MFA in childrenís literature from Hollins University, as well as a MLIS from the University of British Columbia, and is now an auxiliary librarian for several systems in the Lower Mainland.

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

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