________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 27. . . .March 15, 2013


Hostage. (HIP Xtreme Novels).

Alex Kropp. Illustrated by Charlie Hnatiuk.
Toronto, ON: H.I.P. Books, 2012.
83 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-29-0.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

*** /4


Hostage Teacher’s Guide.

Lori Jamison.
Toronto, ON: H.I.P. Books, 2012.
19 pp., stapled, $7.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-30-6.

Subject Headings:


Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

*** /4



There were robbers, with guns, and me and Peeps and the bank people. And we were all scared, all ready to burst into tears.

So did I pinch myself and wake up? I couldn't. This was real. This was a nightmare, but it was real.

“You, zit-face, move it!” The tall robber was talking to me. I guess I wasn't moving fast enough.

That's one more thing a mom should tell you. Never argue when a guy is pointing a gun at you. Now that would be good advice.

“I'm moving,” I wanted to say, but the words stuck in my throat.

Silently, I followed the others inside the office. There were six of us. Three worked for the bank – the manager, Mrs. Dutton and Kate. Three of us were just people – Peeps, the woman in a hurry and me. That gave the robbers six hostages. They would trade us for a chance to escape. Simple as that.

If the cops were willing to make a trade.


Hostage is a high-interest, low-vocabulary adventure story from High Interest Publishing. This publishing company produces books designed to capture the interest of struggling and reluctant readers while, at the same time, keeping the vocabulary at a reasonable and reachable level. Hostage fits both of these categories. The story is interesting and enjoyable, and the vocabulary is within reach of struggling readers. The story is written with punchy and realistic one-liners and dialogue which will engage the readers. It captures the way some young people speak and helps make the story credible.

     Told in the first person, the story is at times whimsical and funny. Rob and Peeps are typical teens, kibitzing with each other, complaining about their parents, and talking and thinking about girls. They find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time because Rob's mother insists that he put his money in the bank to save it. Rob comments that, since his mother doesn't have a lot of money, that is why she is so insistent that he be careful with his finances. This is also the reason he and Peeps are at the bank on that fateful day.

     Hostage does a good job of making the characters act in plausible ways, suitable to the circumstances and the situations in which they find themselves. The story is funny and lighthearted in places, yet, at other times, the reader feels the stress and danger in which Rob and his friend, Peeps find themselves when they are taken hostage by the bank robbers. In peril, Rob and Peeps watch helplessly as the bank manager gets hit on the side of the head by one of the bank robbers. The manager bleeds profusely. Although the blood is mentioned in such a way as to make it real for the reader, the scenes and descriptions are not overly graphic.

     The bank robbers are short-tempered and mean. The younger bank robber actually shoots out the surveillance camera in anger, then almost hits Peeps with a baseball bat. When the robbers do threaten to do damage to Rob and Peeps, it feels plausible – that it could happen, and that it would be serious – even deadly. The suspense keeps the reader wondering what will happen to Rob and Peeps and whether or not they will get out of this dangerous situation alive.

     The setting doesn't seem to play a significant part in the story until halfway through the book when it is mentioned that the getaway car is driving out into the desert. This pulled me out of the story as I scrambled to reconfigure everything I had already created about this adventure being a story set on the Canadian prairies. Mentioning the setting earlier in the story would have been useful for this reader!

     At the end of the book, Rob comments that staying in school and actually working at it might be a good idea for him and Peeps. Although I am in total agreement with this statement, that school is extremely important for our young people, and I like the characters coming to this conclusion, I felt the statement was a little over the top. It seemed to me like an agenda to preach at or brainwash the struggling and reluctant readers into wanting to stay in school. As already stated, although I strongly agree with this, the statement seemed inappropriate in the story. School had not been mentioned before this, by either Rob and Peeps, in any substantial way, and the reader had no idea what these characters thought about getting an education, or that either one of them might be thinking of dropping out of school. This comment seemed to come out of nowhere – to be an add-on to the story. Perhaps there are more subtle ways to include these important messages which don't hit the reader over the head quite so hard.

     As illustrator for the book, Charlie Hnatiuk has done a good job of accurately representing scenes from the story. His images add details for the reader and help convey the mood of fear and danger. The illustrations, which readers will enjoy, are a nice addition to the story.

     As well, a teacher's guide can be ordered along with the novel. [Editor’s Note: If six or more copies of the same novel in the series are purchased at the same time, the guide is free.] The guide is more than the typical low-level-thinking-short-answer questioning type of worksheets. There are many good ideas and activities provided in the guide which will help to engage reluctant and struggling readers while, at the same time, will teach them some important reading strategies, such as making connections, accessing prior knowledge and inferring, to name a few.

     All in all, I enjoyed this book. The characters seemed real, and I grew to enjoy them and care about them. The twists and turns of the plot often left me wondering what would happen next and how Rob and Peeps would ever get out of the situation alive. I am sure struggling and reluctant readers will really enjoy this book and find the story to be a real page-turner.


Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of seven books and is most well-known for the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw” time travel adventures. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan and working with Saskatoon Tribal Council Schools as a Literacy Consultant.

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

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