Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shooting Star: Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs

There might be more unlikely ways to die, but I can't think of any.

Fourteen-year-old Brady Steele, astronogy nut and extreme sports fan, stays up late to watch the Perseid shower over the Black Hills, but the annual meteor show suddenly takes an extreme turn before his eyes:

Horizon to horizon, the night sky was glowing a brilliant blue. My jaw was on the ground. Strange, beautiful, bizarre, eerie, weird, awesome... words can't begin to describe that light.

Then, suddenly, BOOM! BOOM! Two tremendous explosions rocked the sky, so powerful they rattled my bedroom window. What in the world?

I didn't have time for another thought. All at once, a roar and a blinding fireball were coming down on me like a freight train strapped to a runaway skyrocket. I hit the deck, and as I did, WHAM! Something crashed right into the house. From the earsplitting sound of it, I'd nearly got hit.

From the first pages, Will Hobbs' latest guy adventure, Go Big or Go Home, takes off on a helter-skelter plot that will keep 'tween and early teen readers turning those pages. Going back to his bedroom, Brady finds a burned hole in his mattress and under the bed, a potato-shaped meteorite which would have surely killed him if he'd been asleep there. Stuffing some towels into the hole, Brady curls up on what's left of his bed and falls asleep with his amazing find close. beside him.

Brady's first call the next morning is to his cousin Quinn, his sometimes rival and sometimes partner in extreme biking and spelunking adventures. The two boys decide to set out on a marathon bike tour the next day, planning to stop off with their prize, which they name "Fred" for Far Roaming Earth Diver, at the local science museum where a well-known astrophysicist is in summer residence. As the boys pedal up a steep mountain road on the first leg of their trip, Brady, who usually plays second fiddle to the bigger, stronger Quinn, finds himself infused with a tingling burst of energy which has him leaving the struggling Quinn far behind.

Dr. Ripley, the meteorite expert is blown away by Brady's specimen, declaring it a very valuable object, one of only 34 basaltic shergottite meteorites originating on Mars ever found on Earth. He takes a small nub from the surface of Brady's space rock in hopes of finding traces of microscopic Martian life within it, promising to report his findings to the boys as soon as possible.

During the next few days, Brady's strange bodily sensations become more alarming. True, he enjoys outracing Quinn and discovering that at five feet six he is suddenly able to dunk a basketball at will. But a puzzling midnight spell of paralysis and an occasional numbness spreading through his body unnerves him, especially when it follows his recurring nightmare of being autopsied alive but immobile by the county coroner, father of the belligerent Carver boys, Cal, Max, and Buzz. Then on an "extreme" fishing trip in a flimsy WalMart inflatable raft, Brady and Quinn have to call upon the Carvers to rescue them. As the raft, ripped by the hook thrown from an escaping lunker, begins to sink, the Carvers bring their boat alongside, and in the exchange, Brady's backpack, with the valuable Fred inside, drops into the deeps of the lake.

Then Brady learns from Dr. Ripley that he has been able to reconstitute dormant bacteria within the meteorite sample, and Brady begins to suspect that both his unusual strength and speed and his growing numbness are the result of infection from the extraterrestrial germs. When the Carver boys boast of their retrieval of the backpack using the coroner's grappling apparatus, Brady and Quinn go to the Carver's farm to try to try to get their meteorite back, but there Brady collapses and awakes inert and unable to communicate with anyone. Suddenly his nightmare of being taken for dead is coming true before his open but unmoving eyes.

Like Harry Potter's sorcerer's stone, Brady finds the ownership of Fred is an awe-inspiring but complex responsibility--and a danger to his own existence. Brady and Quinn are finally confronted with the same choice that faced Harry--take the wealth and fame which goes with the possession of the stone or reject it and end its power to destroy.

Will Hobbs, master of the survival story genre, shown in Jason's Gold and Wild Man Island, has here a novel with the non-stop action of a video game and the suspense of an outdoor survival saga, spiced with philosophical overtones, which is sure to attract his customary audience--guys for whom Quinn's favorite words--extreme, insane, whacked, weird, rad, and eerie--are part of an engaging read. Hobbs' characterizations are delineated in broad strokes, but the relationship between cousins Brady and Quinn, part rivalry, part deep friendship, is drawn in terms that will resonate with early teen readers.

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