"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend

N.D. Wilson’s Leepike Ridge

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

Random House, 2007.

224 pages, hardcover.

was face out at the Library & remembered I meant to read this, as I had read and enjoyed the 100 Cupboards series.

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Have you (or yours) read a book by N.D. Wilson? He is one of the juvenile fiction authors I would like to see recommended more often, especially on all those lists titled “reluctant male readers?”  While I adored 100 Cupboards, both the first book and the series, Leepike Ridge is a great place for introductions.

Eleven-year-old Thomas Hammond has always lived next to Leepike Ridge. He never imagined he might end up lost beneath it!

What Tom finds under Leepike Ridge–a corpse, a dog, a flashlight, a castaway, crawdads, four graves, a tomb, and buried treasure–will answer questions he hadn’t known to ask and change his life forever. Now if only he can find his way home again… ~publisher’s comments.

The narrator wants to share a story he’s heard, about “this valley and the stream and the old, dry house chained to the top of the enormous rock beside the foot of the mountain” (2). A boy lives there with his widowed mother and she is about to receive a wedding proposal from a repulsive gentleman who has been courting her a short while now. But before the arrival of the proposal a new refrigerator is hefted up the steep and winding staircase to their house. The mother does not realize her son has grown past the age of playing with the discarded box and saves it for him. The foam that cushions the appliance is the very one that carries the sleeping boy down the stream to Leepike ridge which hides a strong and potentially fatal current that sucks the water beneath the ridge and into who knows what exactly. There is supposed to be treasure amidst all the caverns and winding waterways. But little comes back out that is pulled under, little that is alive anyway.

Wilson does not appear to be interested in coddling the reader too fiercely; which you can guess with the mention of “corpse” in the synopsis. Tom gets dinged up pretty badly, and he is in serious trouble when he washes up on the invisible shore next to said corpse; it is a breath-holding moment as he reaches out and touches the corpse’s boot, then leg, and then in the search for supplies… There are bad men who will kill to get what they want. There are dogs that will eat anything. Leepike Ridge can be violent and gruesome at turns; but with its audience in mind, of course.

Tom is determined to survive and works to remain calm, even in the most terrifying fix. You get that he learned this from a father who was in the Navy and a mother who, while her son has gone missing and is presumed dead, is equally determined to be calm and pragmatic about her situation. Tom is resourceful, but is still subject to the whims of his fate and his is left to chance. It doesn’t feel a given that Tom will get out alive, sooner or much later, and certainly not with all his limbs. And you really worry about the dog. To add to already perilous matters, there are the treasure hunters who will not let anything get in the way of their desperate search for the rumored loot and are still in the thick of it.

There are mysteries, plenty of adventure, and some musing on what it would take to survive beneath the ridge, and what it would take to finally escape. There is also a bit about those who have come before, ancient civilizations and not so ancient predecessors; and what constitutes a treasure. In Leepike Ridge as in 100 Cupboards, Wilson writes in families who love each other, and have healthy if not sometimes flawed relationships–and he doesn’t make it mushy; it’s just matter of fact.

The action/adventure, Wilson’s imagination, his graspable metaphors/similes, and his quirky characters will draw the younger reader. His ability to write and weave a good story will keep everyone happy. However, one of the things that sets Wilson apart from many of his peers is his way of establishing/describing his characters. I noticed this right away in 100 Cupboards, I example it here with Leepike Ridge.

[Tom] was the sort of boy who had many friends when he was at school, but what they knew about him was limited to his freckles, brown hair, long arms, and the clenched determination that settled onto his face when he was angry or competing. His smile, which was wide and quick, was always surprising, and his laugh, which lived in his narrow belly, was unpredictable. In games, any games, he was the first to dive for a ball, to slide on concrete, or to get a mouthful of dirt. He was taller than many of the boys in his class, but not the tallest, and he always seemed to have scabs.

Wait for the rest of the story, and you will know him better when I am done. (3)

If you were not this boy, you knew him, and if anyone could come back from the dead, he could; not necessarily brash, but certainly bold, definitely the risk-taker.

I love Tom’s observance of Jeffrey, his mother’s suitor:

Everyone said Jeffrey was a nice man. He was also tall, with lanky limbs and a saggy middle. Worse than that, he had a saggy chest and wore unbuttoned polo shirts. He always smiled, regardless of the situation, and taught fourth grade at Tom’s school. He drove a little green car the color of dry toothpaste. To Tom, he had been Mr. Veatch until this summer, when suddenly he had begun dropping by (from his house near school, about twenty miles away) and wanting to be called Jeffrey. (8-9)

You will not be surprised to find out later that Mr. Jeffrey Veatch still lives with his mother.

The ability to describe the physicality and personality of a character in a story without falling back on cliche or the passe is no small thing, and it a pleasure when a writer can do so as creatively and charmingly as N.D. Wilson does. He’ll establish a sense of the character with the visual and contextual and then either subvert it or enhance it. His application of humor doesn’t hurt the reader either.

Wilson has a new book out: Ashtown Burials (#01) : The Dragon’s Tooth which is already receiving good reviews. I look forward to the read as Wilson has yet to disappoint. He is an adventure author who should be on every young person’s reading list.

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When I say “everyone’s list” I especially mean: readers who like a bit of peril in their reading, and some unpredictability; and where the instability is societal, not familial. For those who like well-drawn characters, and are impressed with the ability on the part of the writer to translate the most difficult of action scenes and who doesn’t mind grossing out the reader with descriptions of textures and smells, or ridiculous grown-ups. Wilson is amongst the best of boy’s lit, but don’t exclude the daughters–or yourself, for that matter.

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Wilson is good in Leepike Ridge, but you can see improvement in his craft in 100 Cupboards, which is lengthier and more fantastical; which of course has me thrilled to read his new series if he just gets better and better.

my review of 100 Cupboards and of the second of those three Dandelion Fire.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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