Peak by Roland Smith is the story of the youngest person to ever attempt climbing Mt. Everest. The 14-year-old hero of the novel, who was named Peak by his mountaineering father, is arrested after climbing to the top of a 75 story building in New York City. His mother and step father are connected enough to hire a lawyer who is able to get Peak off with probation on the condition that he leave the state long enough for the publicity to die down.
Peak’s father, whom he has not seen in over ten years, arrives and offers to take his son back with him to Indonesia. The judge and Peak’s mother agree and the adventure begins.
Peak’s father has no intention of enrolling him in the International School in Indonesia. Instead, he takes him to Katmandu where the ascent of Mt. Everest begins. Peak’s father runs a mountaineering company that is just about to fold. He hopes that the publicity he can get by getting his son to the top of Mt. Everest before his 15th birthday will turn into a goldmine. One of the sherpas, a Tibetan monk named Zopa, has brought along his grandson Sun-jo hoping that he can become the youngest person to summit Everest and then live his life on the commercial endorsements he will get instead of working as a sherpa.
The events of the ascent, along with the character’s backstory, are engaging. To avoid the age restrictions in Nepal, they climb the north face, the Chinese side, of the mountain. This brings trouble with the Chinese police who do not want a Tibetan boy to become the youngest to ever ascend Everest. There is plenty of suspense along the way, more than enough to engage the reader throughout the novel. But what I found most interesting were the details about the climb. We get a very gritty version of how the climb works; the litter and human debris that surrounds the camp, the bodies of those who died too high up the mountain to be brought back down, the in-fighting among the wealthy tourists who’ve all paid too much not to be allowed to reach the top. We also get plenty of detail about the actual mechanics of the climb: how difficult it is to cook in the thin air, how various equipment works, how hard it is to breath from an oxygen tank, even what it smells like. The ascent is hard work, very hard. Whatever nobility there is reaching the top of Everest, there is a lot of ignobility that must be endured first.
I found Peak to be compelling reading. The characters are interesting and engaging, even if they are sometimes only lightly sketched, the plot certainly keeps you reading more, and the ending was certainly satisfying if only partly surprising.
In the six years since I first ran this review over at my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B., I’ve had several groups of 7th grade boys read Peak for their book club book. I’m sad to say that none of them have really liked the book. At best it gets a luke-warm reception, a few like it a few don’t. I was sure it was one they would love when I bought it. I have had 8th grade students who read other books by Roland Smith and loved them.
I’ve not had a group of girls or a mixed group read Peak yet, so I can’t say what they would think.