Monday, September 03, 2012
Middle Grade Monday-- Phoenix
September 2012, Random House, ARC from Netgalley.com
Phoenix is competing in a local cycle race when Ryan, a sort-of friend, starts to ride dirty, grabbing the back of his shirt and eventually kicking him right in the face. Phoenix's tire is ruined and his grandfather is assessing his wounds when he comes to. There's no hope for the race (and Phoenix hates to lose), but to make matters worse, when the pair arrive home, their house has been trashed and the grandfather's "herbal supplement" has been stolen by thugs Phoenix suspects tampered with his bike. It turns out that his grandfather is over 300 years old and only thrives thanks to dragon bone, a fine powder that is very rare. Without the stolen supply, he will die. Phoenix's Uncle Ti quickly arranges for him to travel to China to try to get more dragon bone from either PawPaw, an herbalist, or Grandmaster Long, who lives in the monastery that the grandfather did. Once in China, PawPaw sends Phoenix out on his own with just a GPS; luckily, he meets Hu Die (Iron Butterfly) whose father owns a cycling shop. Hu Die is a master mechanic, strong bike rider, and wants desperately to go to the US. She offers to save Phoenix the hike to the monastery and bike there with him. When they arrive, Grandmaster Long agrees to give some dragon bone to the grandfather, but the same thugs who trashed Phoenix's house show up and steal it. Hu Die recognizes one as Tan Lin, a cyclist who worked with... Ryan's rich uncle who has a team! Hue Die and Phoenix manage to make their way to Texas so that Phoenix can join the team, and so the two can get back the dragon bone.
Strengths: There is no synopsis that does justice to this awesome, awesome book! I enjoyed The Five Ancestors series, and it's been popular in my library, but anything set in the 1650s is going to be a hard sell to some students. Stone does action like nobody else. It wouldn't have occurred to me to read about mountain biking or cyclocross, but Stone describes everything in heart-pounding, muscle wrenching detail. There are fights, traveling around the world, and a bit of mysticism. Students who haven't read The Five Ancestors could start with this and go back to the other series if they wanted. Great stuff!
Weaknesses: I wish the first series were fresher in my mind, since I would then have picked up on a lot of nuances and some of the characters that were in that series.