Peak by Roland Smith

The first novel we read each year is a survival-themed novel. Unfortunately, I have not yet found a successful first novel for any of my classes. We have read Dogsong, My Side of the Mountain, and The Talking Earth. All of them were flops. My students could not connect with them at all and thus ended up hating the entire experience. This is an awful way to start the year! Fortunately, this year I began with a great read-aloud (Ralph Fletcher’s Flying Solo) but our first novel for mini-lessons was completely hated. So I am always on the lookout for survival books that I think the class will enjoy. I think I may have found the one- Roland Smith’s Peak.

Peak (no, not Pete. Peak, as in mountain peak) Marcello is the son of rock rats. “It could have been worse. My parents could have named me Glacier, or Abyss, or Crampon, ” he says. His mother has given up the climbing life and married his stepfather, a lawyer named Rolf. His father is one of the most famous climbers in the world and hasn’t seen Peak since he was a baby. Peak, his mother, stepfather, and twin little sisters live in New York City. The only time Peak gets to climb, his passion, is during summer climbing camps. However, he begins climbing skyscrapers, for the shear thrill. When he reaches his destination he tags a window with his symbol, a blue stenciled mountain peak. This works out until he is caught climbing the Woolworth Building.

After he is caught, he is held in custody by the NYC police. Unfortunately, the media sensationalizes his actions and another teen copies him, ending with fatal results. The state throws the book at Peak. Until his father, Josh, shows up. A deal is cut- Peak’s parents place $150,000 dollars in a trust until Peak is 18. If he doesn’t commit any more crimes before then they will get their money back. And Peak must leave the state of NY to allow the hubbub to die down. And he must go with his father, Josh.

Peak is suddenly thrust into a new life. His father lives in Thailand, where he runs his multi-million dollar climbing company. Peak is scheduled to attend the International School there until he can return to NY. Or so he thinks. Before he realizes it, he is in Kathmandu. And his father tells him they will be climbing Mount Everest. Peak finds himself in the complex world of an Everest base camp, where large amounts of money are at stake and climbing companies offer people an often-deadly shot at the summit. Josh’s team is preparing various expeditions full of paying customers who are attempting to reach the summit. Suddenly, Peak Marcello is faced with the chance to become the youngest climber to ever reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

The novel is full of mountaineering facts told in (all too) vivid detail: corpses litter the paths to the summit, HAPE affects many of the climbers, and people are willing to do anything to reach the summit. The story is told through Peak’s writing in his Moleskine notebooks, which will be used to judge his graduation from his school in New York. The story is fascinating and suspenseful. Will Peak make it to the summit? Will the Chinese allow him to do so? Using current events involving Tibet, China, and Nepal the story intertwines the tales of other climbers along with Peak. It is a fascinating look at a deadly lifestyle.

I am hoping to present Peak to our language arts coordinator over the next few weeks to see if we can get it approved for next year. I think the students will connect with Peak’s story and be excited to read about his choices and their consequences in the camps at Mt. Everest. Has anyone else used this novel in school?

Peak is out in hardcover right now. I highly recommend it!

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20 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review – I haven’t read this one yet, but some of my 7th grade students have had great things to say about it. I think ALABAMA MOON by Watt Key and LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer would also be great survival-themed choices.

  2. You know, I loved LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and never even considered it for the survival unit! How funny! (Probably because I was focusing on how it scared the bejeezus out of me). In fact, I imagine it would be really cool to have half the class read LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and the other half read the dead & gone. I think you have given me a great idea. :) Now I just need to get my hands on the dead & gone. :)

    I haven’t read ALABAMA MOON yet, but it is on my wishlist. I will have to get a copy of it next time I am at the bookstore.

  3. [...] as we knew it, reading workshop ideas, susan beth pfeffer, the dead and the gone In her comment here, author, blogger, and fellow teacher Kate Messner has given me a fantastic idea for my [...]

  4. Hmm, this sounds good. I love survival books. I’ll have to check this one out. Thanks for the review!

  5. I am reading this book now right. It is awesome! I’m almost finished.

  6. My class is reading Peak, and so far it’s really good! I think it’s one of the best books ever! (After Harry Potter, of course!)

    ~Brookstar

  7. TEWMS is using PEAK this quarter as our “One Book, One Community” title. Every staff member, (yes, even custodial and cafeteria), has read it. Now our students are reading Peak in their LA classes. All other classes have related activities…converting measurement and finding central tendencies in math, geographic, physical, and water (since we don’t have snow/ice in FL) in science, and techical tools in our tech classes. Oh, and so much more!

    We’re culminating with a school-wide trip to our Tampa Museum of Science and Energy for an IMax movie and with a community (parents, businesses, and all of us) “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game whose winner get to climb a “Rock Wall.”

  8. Loved this book, couldn’t keep it on the book fair shelves a year ago! Very exciting, a real page turner.

  9. I loved the book and my intier class loved it to. Im going to have my 5th grade class read all of your books over the year and over the summer.

  10. I’m actually reading Peak right now, Roland Smith is an great author.

    ~Nic

  11. I LOVED this booooooooook!

  12. I LOVED the book, but am having slight trouble with the book review….I just don’t know what to write!

  13. i think this is the best book i have ever read. im in 7th grade and this book kept my atention the most i would love it if you would email me all your books like PEAK I am now your biggest fan PLEASE EMAIL me back at matt64xman@gmail.com

  14. great book!

  15. I actually use this book as a class novel. On Roland Smith’s website you can find some great lesson plans for his books by Julie Sprague. At the National Middle School Conference I saw her present a workshop on how to get students to dive into a book. Some great ideas!

  16. I read this in 9th grade as an ‘on the side but you’ll still be tested on it’ book.
    It’s on the ultraadvanced book for my 5th grade bound sister. But then again that district placed My Sister’s Keeper as a 7th grade book. :shrug:

  17. i am currently ready “peak” and so far so good.
    but i waited too long to read it cuz we (as a class)
    are gonna take a test on the book we read. but we take
    it tomorrow… im only on page 52…

    ;( this sucks

    lol… if you can, add a comment telling me main characters, main ideas, settings, important stuff lol

    im not a cheater! :P

  18. i really enjoyed this book and i am tping my report for it right now but it is a little hard to think of what the moral is…

  19. Peak was a pretty good book except for some names and places were hard to remember. We had to read it for school summer reading and I thought it was a great book.

  20. So, I know I am like 2 years late, but I have to respond about students not liking Peak. I teach 6th grade English and I’ve found the sure-fire way to make sure your students enjoy reading novels in class. Let them pick their titles. I always offer at least 5 choices, book-them, and then let the kids pick. They are grouped by title and have activities, worksheets, etc. that work for any book. I’d be more than happy to share my novel booklet I created.

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