on June 28, 2010
Ry only intended to be off the train for a moment. He had a quick phone call to make to his grandfather, and then it was back on the train. The call went to the answering machine and the train took off --- without Ry. Now, lost somewhere in Montana, Ry is in trouble. His parents are off on a Caribbean sailing adventure, his grandfather has fallen in a hole and suffered a concussion, and Ry has no place to turn except an old driveway he happens upon. In that driveway is someone who turns out to be his salvation --- Del.
Del is a jack-of-all-trades who agrees to help Ry get back to his home in Wisconsin. Ry and Del pile into his old Jeep station wagon, and it's an instant road trip. Ry has no idea what has happened to his grandfather --- and neither does his grandfather, who has suffered amnesia --- and can only imagine what is happening with his parents. Del and Ry suffer minor setbacks on their road trip, namely hitchhiking with a lunatic, but eventually make it to Wisconsin and stumble upon Ry's worst nightmare. The answering machine reveals that Ry's parents are stuck in St. Jude as they await replacement passports, and his grandfather has no idea where he is and may be potentially hurt. Del declares that he and Ry will head to the Caribbean to find his parents, and that's that.
If you've ever been on a long road trip, you know that you eventually end up learning a lot about the people you travel with. Ry learns that Del has a soft spot for a mysterious Yulia, who happens to be on the way, and he has friends in all places. Friends with airplanes that can cross a small part of the ocean and land on some islands off the Florida coast. After a harrowing plane ride, Del and Ry eventually hook up with Yulia, who offers them refuge and a boat. Without ever really second-guessing himself, Ry agrees to travel with Del to find his parents on St. Jude Island.
After traveling on a train, car, plane and boat, Ry is finally ready to find his parents and rejoin civilization. It's never that easy, though. Ry mistakenly steers the boat off course, and Del gets seriously injured in a windmill mishap. He is once again all alone, his parents are oblivious to what is happening, and his grandfather still can't remember anything. Who knew it was this easy to fall off the face of the earth?
In a technological age where more people are connected than ever before, you might find it impossible for Ry's scenario to actually happen. Lynne Rae Perkins, though, makes every situation seem real. People forget cell phones all the time, Facebook is a way to maintain relationships without talking, and many of us don't take the time to have real communication with others. AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH is a fun read, but it also could be looked at as a cautionary tale. Perkins reminds us to find that common bond with one another, and then it won't seem as though we are all alone.
"Wait a minute. Was the - had the train just moved?"
It seemed like a good idea, getting off the train. The conductor said they would be stopped there for forty minutes. It wasn't going to take that long. He was being cautious, reasonable even. He had a plan. Fifteen-year-old Ry was well on his way to The Summer ArchaeoTrails program when he finally opened the last letter from the camp director and found out that camp had been cancelled. He decided to call his grandfather, who's house and dog sitting while Ry's parents are on a sailing vacation in the Caribbean. He figured his grandfather would know what he should do. Only Ry can't get any cell reception on the train out here in the middle of nowhere, Montana. So when a minor mechanical glitch forced an unscheduled stop, and Ry saw a hill where reception might be possible - well, like I said, it seemed like a good idea. And yet, here he is, alone, no backpack (it's still on the train), no one answering the phone back home and his cell battery slowly dying.
This inauspicious start launches the most improbable, fantastical summer of Ry's life. Stranded and alone, with no way to reach his parents or his grandfather (who, as it turns out, are all having troubles of their own), Ry begins an epic adventure ruled by the inevitable Murphy's Law. Ry is lucky enough to pick up an ally and traveling companion, Del, -a "ninja, cowboy fix-it-man" who believes nothing is impossible. Together, Ry and Del will face a host of obstacles as they answer the question, 'What lengths would you go to in order to get back to the people you love?'
When Lynne Rae Perkins won the Newbery Medal for Criss Cross, the critics (there are always critics) complained that the novel had no real plot (which just means they totally missed the point, in my opinion). This book has a plot and a quest, but it isn't necessarily plot-driven. It really doesn't need to be. The brilliance here is in the writing - the exquisite prose, the wry humor, the back stories gradually revealed. Ry's story is one of resiliency and of self confidence. It's about not giving up and about learning to trust others while standing on your own two feet. Most of all, this novel is a wonderful, engaging, surprising adventure.
"Dear Roy,Do not come to camp. There is no camp. Camp is a concept that no longer exists in a real place or time.We are so sorry. The Summer ArchaeoTrails Program will not take place. A statistically improbable number of things have gone wrong and the camel's back is broken. Your money will be fully refunded as soon as I sell my car and remortgage my house..."
By time the story begins and Ry is once again reading the letter, a statistically improbable number of things have already begun to go wrong for him, too. The train transporting him from the Midwest to the now-nonexistent summer camp in Montana had been delayed in the middle of nowhere. When he accidentally found this last letter stuffed in his backpack, read it, and tried to immediately call his grandfather from the train, there were no bars of reception on his cell phone. Hearing that the train delay was going to be at least forty minutes, he'd stepped off the train and climbed a nearby hill to try and get some reception. Now, inexplicably, the train has suddenly departed -- with all his stuff -- before he can get back down the hill to it. His phone is already very low on power and even if the charger were not on the train, there is absolutely no sight of civilization -- other than silent train tracks -- from where he is sitting.
This would still not be that much of a problem (or a story) had his family not just moved to a new town where he knows nobody. This would still not be that much of a problem (or a story) had his grandfather -- who came to their new house to dog-sit and who is, just about at this moment, suffering a memory-scrambling concussion -- been available to answer the phone. This would still not be that much of a problem (or a story) had his parents -- who have headed down to the Caribbean to revitalize their marriage -- not had their cell phone stolen by a monkey.
Holy smokes! How many more things can go wrong from this point forward? Damned near 350 pages worth. But this is middle school literature -- as opposed to gritty YA -- so the only rotting corpses that result from the endlessly unfolding and jaw-dropping mountain of falls, crashes, explosions, missteps, crossed or broken wires and opportunities just-missed-by-a-hair, are those of mollusks and rodents.
"'Do they have an itinerary?' asked Arvin. 'Or are they just blowing in the wind, wherever love takes them, skipping over the ocean like a stone?'"'Arvin's kind of a mystic,' explained Beth."
AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH by Newbery medalist Lynne Rae Perkins is a splashing, crashing, smashing ode to one young man's summer vacation gone terribly (and wonderfully) awry.
This is a convoluted story: Ry, a teen boy heading for summer camp, gets left in the middle of nowhere when the train he's on malfunctions and he steps off to get better cell phone reception. The train takes off without him, but what does it matter, the camp has closed down anyway, which he doesn't discover until he's on his way there.
Meanwhile, Ry's parents are sailing the Caribbean in their own boat and his grandfather is house-sitting and taking care of the family dogs. But the grandfather meets with an accident and isn't there when Ry calls him for help. And the parents don't answer his call to their cell phone... it's fallen down a volcano. Oh, and Ry doesn't send any SOS's via text or calls to his friends. Eventually, he can't anyway, because he leaves his cell phone at his new friend Del's house when they take off cross country -- and then fly on a rickety homemade plane to the Caribbean.
Get the picture? The implausibilities of the plot kept me from enjoying this book. In today's fully connected world, it just makes no sense. The parents leave no itinerary, seem only slightly concerned that they can't contact the grandfather, and never try to reach their son. When he's at a computer, Ry doesn't ask any friends or other family members for help via his facebook page or e-mail. No one thinks to buy him another phone, and when he and Del do arrive in his hometown, they promptly leave for the Caribbean, apparently not concerned enough about grandpa to stick around. Couldn't they just notify the Coast Guard or marine officials of some sort to get a message to the parents?
And don't forget the dogs. What's with the dogs? Their story is depicted in a series of drawings, but I couldn't follow it. Where did they go? Who put them on a plane? Another mystery.
I guess there would be no story if anyone acted with any sense in this book. "Cheerful implausibility," Book List calls it. So, suspend your disbelief if you can; I couldn't. Ry and the other characters are likeable, if a little nutty, in the way adults always are in YA fiction. And, of course, everyone finds their way home in the end, even the dogs. That may be enough of a reward for you.
on October 5, 2010
Wow, talk about an adventure---just about everything that can possibly go wrong, does, in this rather unlikely story---with extremely amusing results. But you'll find yourself rooting for the main characters, especially Ry, who reacts to every trouble with outward calm, even if he's panicking inside.
The story is enlivened by the occasional illustration in comic book style. There is one tiny sub-plot, seen from the point of view of a pair of dogs, that is told only through drawings, and it's pretty funny.
I won't over-analyse the story here; other Amazon reviewers have talked about the novel with greater skill than I possess. I'll just say I LOVED THIS BOOK; recommended.
The dust jacket illustration is fantastic; appealing and dynamic and the little drawn-in plane and boat made me smile. Best cover design I've seen for ages.
on August 18, 2011
I usually read fantasy, but my librarian recommended this book for some fun summer reading. I LOVED it!! The minute I was finished, I was looking online for other books by this author. It is a fun and entertaining story with excellent humor (I laughed out loud many times.) On top of that, there was nothing offensive or disturbing. It's a great book for teenagers and adults alike. Highly recommended.
on August 13, 2010
My 10-year old son is a voracious reader. It is a challenge to find books that are challenging and interesting enough to really engage him, without covering topics that are more "mature" than I'd like him to read. Despite his hesitancy, because the cover and title didn't telegraph the content of the book (10-year olds are like the rest of us, they do try and judge a book by its cover!), and he tends more towards sports books, he quickly became completely engrossed in the book. The good news it is long enough and challenging enough to read that it lasted him a full week, during which he kept sneaking away to read it some more (good summer fun!).
on June 29, 2010
I loved this book. First of all, I adore an interesting, new premise -- and this book has that, with its protagonist being sent off to camp by his parents and ending up completely stranded in the middle of nowhere. I found all of the characters engaging.
And the coolest thing of all was how the author dealt with some of the deep issues of life (in
potentially life-threatening situations at times!)in such a light-hearted, flowing way that nonetheless gave full respect to the ways that life is, and how people relate to that.
on October 16, 2012
First, a disclaimer: I tried listening to this book on audiobook. The paperback version contains some drawings. Maybe theat made the difference.
I make it a habit to listen to all or at least most of the Rebecca Caudill books every year. I am happy to report that I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the dozen Rebecca Caudill nominated books over the last four or five years. Until this year. I abandoned the book less than half way through (and I never abandon books!). The story meandered, the characters behaved in irrational ways, and the narrative got bogged down by detail and description that did not contribute to the overall story. So frustrating. Ths climax wasn't earned, it was just the culmination of one outlandish (and unlikely) event after another.
By contrast, I just finished reading "Countdown" -also a Rebecca Caudill nominee- which benefits from a tight narrative in which all the components build to a single, satisfying, and earned climax.
It is hard to believe that this same author penned a Newberry Award winner: CrissCross. I will have to check it out.
on September 4, 2010
Since it is a road trip book about a teenage boy I was thinking it would have some Kerouac inspiration/feel to it. To the author's credit, she does know how to create characters that are warm, interesting, and provide depth to make them seem realistic. I wish the same could be said of her plot.
The story as one reviewer described it seems like a Rube Goldberg machine and unfortunately it is just as unbelievable and odd as one of those machines. The chain of events one after another seem so unrealistic I never could get to the point of suspending disbelief.
In brief without spoiling the plot, the main character, Ry, is taking a train to summer camp when the train stops in the middle of nowhere because of a malfunction. He steps off the train and then further away, in order to get better cell phone reception. Then the train leaves without him. His parents are taking a second honeymoon after a stressful move leaving the grandfather at the new house to take care of the dogs (the dogs are important believe it or not). Each character experiences unlikely mishaps that somehow make it impossible for the main character to let his family know he is lost. (Yes Ry has a cell phone for which he can't seem to find a charger, but even with low battery and the text feature enabled he can't seem to contact the friends who text him and get them to help him.) Other people really found this book charming and wonderful. I just couldn't get there.