Monday, December 10, 2007

Kenneth Oppel "Airborn"

The boy got this one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I had to pretty much force him to read it (actually I read it to him, but anyway). I don't know what the problem was -- maybe it looked too set in real life, or too old, or to young, or like the books about aircraft and submarines that are so often read around my house. Maybe he was deterred by the Governor General's seal of approval on the cover. But once we started reading it, he got totally into it and asked for more pages than was reasonable on a nightly basis. If I wasn't there to read, he would read himself, which was good, really, except that then I would have to catch up before continuing. And even Ed, who so often takes no interest in the bedtime books, got into it.

The prologue to this story has the main character, Matt, working on a derigible in an alternate universe victorian era. He's on watch duty, and sees a hot air balloon, apparently in trouble. He helps rescue the balloonist, who dies shortly thereafter.

The main story takes place a year later. Matt is a 15-year-old boy who has been working as a cabin boy on the derigible Aurora for a couple of years and wants to move up to a more technical position, junior sailmaker. Sailmakers repair the skin of the ship, and they repair the giant bladders that hold the hydrium -- sort of like helium, I guess, that make the ship lighter than air. Matt's father was a sailmaker (until his untimely shipboard death). So a position opens up for jr. sailmaker, and Matt thinks it's his, but it goes to the son of the owner of the airship line instead. So there's a bitter rivalry there. And there's a female interest, Kate de Vries, a wilful rich girl who is onboard to investigate some mysterious flying creatures her grandfather had written about in his flightlog a year before.

The Aurora crashes on a mysterious island that has more on it than you would expect.

Maybe the hardest thing about reading this book out loud was that much of the character development was driven by dialog, and a lot of that dialog was written without "He said" and "She said" identifiers. I didn't start off doing good enough voices to distinguish between the various characters, and I wonder if it wasn't painful for the boy to listen to sometimes. There were also pages and pages, sometimes, of solitary action. And sometimes I needed the map of the ship that was in the front of the book.

That said, I really liked the characters, I liked their interactions and their problems. So did the boy. He really felt for Matt, having to work with the better-looking guy who got what he thought of as his rightful position. It wasn't the sort of thing I would have chosen for myself, but sometimes it's good to stretch a little.


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