Leepike Ridge has it all: a mysterious house chained to a rock, a river with dangerous rapids, legends of stolen treasures in secret caves, a crooked cop and similarly slimy bad guys, a crotchety old recluse, a trusty dog, and a lovely widow with rival suitors and an 11-year-old son.
Thomas Hammond is mature for his age. Since his father died three years ago, he has been the sole male in that mysterious house chained to the rock, a house whose penchant for getting hit by lightning results in oftener-than-average deliveries of new refrigerators. Refrigerators come in huge boxes—boxes with large pieces of foam packing that can support a boy’s weight on a river.
Young Tom is no more moody or imprudent than most adolescents, especially those facing the prospect of gaining an unwanted replacement dad. The combination of the foam, the river, a moonlit night, and Tom’s distaste for one of his mother’s overeager suitors leads the boy into a foolish choice that soon has him under water, fighting for breath.
When Tom goes missing, the good guys and the bad guys alike start searching for him, because perhaps Tom knows something he’s not telling about the treasure his father was rumored to have found. Meanwhile, Tom’s recklessness sets in motion an adventure that saves a man’s life and exposes a whole array of mysteries, including the truth behind his father’s death and yet more eccentricities of the rock-bound house.
Leepike Ridge was Wilson’s first novel for the young reading public. Though utilizing many stock characters and situations common to old-fashioned adventure books and movies for boys, the book is neither stuffy nor hackneyed. And, while Leepike Ridge lacks the au courant fantasy elements of Wilson’s more recent offerings, The Books of the 100 Cupboards (already reviewed on Youth Reads) and Dragon’s Tooth (review forthcoming), the story is no less gripping or suspenseful than its younger siblings. The book is exciting and fast-paced. Its mysteries are captivating, its dangers grippingly realistic. The characters are edgily believable—a quality too often lacking in such tales—and the plot twists continue right to the final pages. It all adds up to a coherent and terrifically satisfying whole.
As in Wilson’s later books, the realities of good and evil are faced head-on, with powerful scenes of human sinfulness—in this case, ruthless greed. The conflicts in Leepike Ridge, however, fall well within appropriate bounds for its intended audience of 9- to 12-year-olds. Like all of Wilson’s youth novels to date, Leepike Ridge will appeal even to normally reluctant readers.
Spoiler Advisory: Advise your children not to read the blurb on the back of the paperback edition of Leepike Ridge. It contains many spoilers.
Image copyright Yearling. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s public library.
Jay Sappington is a birdwatcher, concertgoer, singer, composer, teacher, and former missionary to Africa who is passionate about encouraging young people to explore the arts. A native of Virginia, he lives near Washington, D.C., and is co-authoring a fantasy novel for young readers.
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