When I began teaching literature classes in the early 1990's, the adventure novels that my junior high boys loved to read focused on the skills they saw their fathers, uncles and brothers using: western and wilderness survival skills, like hunting and trapping, roping and riding. In fact, I still remember one boy, Brad, who had just discovered Gary Paulsen; that was only a few years after the original publication of Hatchet, and it seemed that Brad could not read enough Gary Paulsen books!
While boys (and girls) are still reading these more traditional adventure novels, particularly here in our rural state, the adventure novel of today is more likely to have a futuristic setting, and often a post-apocalyptic tone. That statement is certainly true for these three 2012-2013 Soaring Eagle award nominees:
Scorch Trials by James Dashner: This is the second book in Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy; the first book, Maze Runner, was a nominee on last year's list, and was reviewed in this blog on September 22, 2011. Scorch Trials begins where the last novel ended: Thomas and his friends have escaped the maze and are hoping to return to a normal life, one without constant fear. Instead, they find themselves still under the control of others. There is another trial in store for them: Sun flares have destroyed most of the earth, and a virus has infected the remaining population. Infected people turn into zombies, called Cranks, that attack and eat one another. Thomas and his friends are told that they, too, have the virus, but that they will be cured if they succeed in surviving their second trial. The second trial? With very few supplies, they must travel across 100 miles of scorched earth to reach a safe house and receive the cure; they will only have two weeks to reach their destination. As expected, the second trial tests the boys' courage and loyalty to one another just as much as the first trial did. Dashner concludes his trilogy with The Death Cure; he has also written a prequel to the series, The Kill Order.
Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans: This is the story of 14-year-old Michael Vey, who is accustomed to being labeled as "different." Michael suffers from Tourette's syndrome, one reason other kids see him as different. However, he is different in another way as well. Michael has massive amounts of electricity coursing through his body, so much that he can knock bullies right off their feet, and even jump-start his mother's car!
Unfortunately, Michael causes an "incident" that forces his family to move to a small town in Idaho. There, Michael works hard at just being normal. However, he discovers that he is not the only student with unusual abilities in his new school; a girl, Taylor, has the power to read people's minds. Michael and Taylor become friends, and decide to try to discover why they have these special powers. As they come closer to the truth, they also come to the attention of some people who have been looking for kids like them -- and not with good intentions. The sequel to this story, Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen, is already out.
Gone by Michael Grant: The first book in Grant's highly-popular five-book series, Gone takes place in a normal small town, with normal people living in it. The only unusual thing about this town is the nuclear reactor that once had a meltdown. Normal life has resumed by now, and most people try to forget the accident. Until one day -- in a moment, all the people over age 14 disappear. There is no trace of them; they are gone . . . just gone. Sam, one of the 14-year-olds remaining, always knew he had special powers, one which could be dangerous if he got upset. He also has the ability to know what to do in emergency situations, making him a natural, if reluctant, leader. Now, Sam and some of his friends have to figure out how to provide the basics for all the children left in their town. Suddenly, in this frightening new world, responsibility for food, shelter, and basic needs falls heavily on Sam's shoulders. Added to his burden is the fact that others besides him have strange powers, and not all of them are working for good. Even worse are the mutated animals who threaten this new society every day. So far, Grant has published five titles in this series; the sixth and last book, Light, will be released in April of 2013.
These three adventure books still combine the survival skills and character traits that have always made adventures a good choice for reluctant, and other, readers. Hopefully there is one on this list to interest you. We will finish up with the final three 2012-2013 Soaring Eagle nominations in the next blog post.