The Boundless (Book Review)

The Boundless (Book Review)

The Boundless is the biggest train ever built, and it is on its maiden voyage across Canada. The beast of a machine is over 5 miles long, and contains everything from the stateliness of First Class, all the way down to the immigrant cars. It even includes its own traveling circus.

Will, son of one of the main engineers of the train, is on this first voyage across the country, a few years after he is present at the hammering of the final spike to conclude the building of the trans-national railway. When he ends up with one of the keys that opens a mysterious train car/tomb, Will must embark on an adventure that will lead him across the various sections of the epic Boundless, spend some time evading nefarious enemies in search of the key, and even join the circus, where he is helped out by characters such as Maren, and the ringmaster, Mr. Dorian.

boundIn The Boundless, Kenneth Oppel has created a very good adventure novel for the Young Adult crowd. In the novel, he seamlessly blends history with fiction, creating a novel of historical fiction that never gets too dry, or focuses too much on the history aspect of it. He blends in actual people and events into his story, and does so in a way that will keep the information interesting for the teen reader. His main focus is the adventure, and of this he manages to pack in a ton of action into the novel, which is sure to please readers of both sexes.

bound3Oppel has written a handful of very strong YA books in the past, and The Boundless belongs among them. He writes interesting characters, and is able to keep a breakneck pace through the majority of the novel. On The Boundless, he manages to create a machine of wonder and awe, mixed in with some fantastical elements that don’t take away from the interest or realism of the tale he is telling.

The Boundless is a fun read, full of twists and turns, and quirks that are fun to pour through. It is not a terribly difficult read, and could surely find itself a strong audience in the younger YA reading crowd.

For those who have enjoyed other Oppel works, specifically This Dark EndeavorThe Boundless makes for a good follow-up read by the same author, who has become pretty prolific over the past few years. The Boundless also serves as a novel that will be of interest to male readers. While it often seems like this is a dwindling crowd in the YA genre, this novel should appeal to both boys and girls. The love story aspect of the story remains subtle, never too much in your face, as the focus is consistently on the action.

The Boundless provides a strong YA read overall.

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Man, there are a ton of films that focus on people growing up while spending their summers at pools, or water parks. They all have things in common: the glory of summer, the camaraderie of summer friends, the ending of eras, similar characters, the pursuit of girls, the coming-of-age while sitting poolside and watching over kids.

Staten Island Summer follows along with all of the cliches that have been created in this genre, as can be seen in other similar films, like The Way Way BackThe To-Do List, and Lifeguard. Honestly, there is very little that is new in this film, and much of it feels like we have seen it all before. And it feels restrained.

staten4The central aspects of the plot that are important are that this is the final summer for Danny, as he will be leaving for Harvard in the fall, and in a Superbad-esque way, he is leaving his underachieving best friend behind. Their goal is to throw the biggest end of summer party yet, and depart as friends, and as legends in their small town.

As always, the pool is full of a colourful cast of characters, including the archetypal dumb guy, fierce girl, goofy guy who is too old to be working there, and boss who serves as a primary nemesis in their plans for the party, the hot girl. There are no new characters here, and this is the main disappointment with this film. Sure, there are humourous situations, but even those are pretty much the same ones that have been shown time and again on the screen. Staten Island Summer also lacks the emotional depth of some of the other similar films, making it stuck somewhere between a teen party film, a coming-of-age-story, or a comedy. It touches on all genres, but never really develops any of them to make it fit firmly in one or the other.

staten3And this is a weakness.

It’s not emotional enough to make us really care about the characters and their struggles. It tries, at times, but never really succeeds.

It is not funny enough, and is far too restrained to be a gross out teen comedy, like American Pie, or films of that nature. They attempt to venture into this territory a couple of times, but it was as though they were trying far too hard to maintain a PG-13 rating (even though it is, of course, rated R in the US). Everything could have been taken further.

The relationships between characters have moments that can endear us, but they remain pretty superficial over the course of the film, again providing that lack of emotional depth to not only the characters, but the story as a whole.

statenStaten Island Summer is not a terrible film. It’s just that there are so many others that are similar, and much better. Viewers could do worse than watching this movie, but if you are looking for something that provides a strong coming-of-age story, watch The Way Way Back instead. If you are looking for more laughs, watch The To-Do List instead. If you want more of a drama, watch Lifeguard.

There are better options out there, and this is the simple issue with Staten Island Summer: it doesn’t distinguish itself at all from these other films that have so many identical things happening in them.

Challenger Deep (Book Review)

Challenger Deep (Book Review)

Neal Shusterman’s new Young Adult novel, Challenger Deep, tackles the intense issues of mental illness in teens, along with schizophrenia, a very complex and difficult to describe and understand illness.

And he does it extremely well, providing some insight into mental illness, and the harrowing journey that people facing it must endure.

The story focuses on Caden, a teenager who is sinking further into his own world, one where he is on a ship that is headed for the depths of the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of Earth, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Through alternating chapter views (one will be on the ship, one will be in the real world), Caden goes through a journey filled with a cast of characters that mostly seem intent on helping him, others who serve as mentors, and some who stand in his way of reaching his goals.

challenger3I will admit that at the beginning of the novel, everything seemed quite fractured, and the very short chapters interrupted much of the flow of the narrative. Which, I suppose, is part of the point. It just took me a while to catch on to the whole thing, but once I did, it all fell into place very nicely, and the two stories melded together seamlessly, providing more meaning to each.

What Challenger Deep offers in an insight into something that we know very little about: the problems of mental illness, and what people must go through in order to overcome their obstacles with the illness. For a good part of the novel, Caden is hospitalized, and we gain an understanding of the people that are in the hospital with him: their struggles, along with his. And we get a perspective from the patient on what it is like dealing with others, whose sole goal is to improve and steady their mental health, in order for them to be active members of society again. Shusterman also provides a very strong view of the impact on family when illness strikes, allowing us to see and understand what Caden’s parents and younger sister are going through while he is in the hospital.

challenger2Some of the more touching moments of the novel occur between Caden and his sister, as she is too young and innocent to completely understand what is happening with her brother, but old enough to share her thoughts and ask the questions that, seemingly, nobody else will ask.

While I didn’t initially love the start of the book, more based on my reading style, once everything came together, Challenger Deep became a strong, and important, YA novel. It is one that could not only have a great impact on those who suffer from mental health issues, or have in the past, but on those who need to be provided with something to help us understand what is taking place in the minds of those who suffer.

Filled with interesting characters, Challenger Deep may not be for everyone, but it is a very, very good YA novel.