Book Review: Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman
If you’re looking for a middle grade novel with a strong female character and lots of action and adventure, look no further! Sky Jumpers absolutely fits the bill.
In Sky Jumpers, we meet 12-year-old Hope Toriella, a spunky, fearless girl living a surprisingly happy life in White Rock, Nebraska. Surprisingly happy — because this book is set some 40 years after World War III, during which the world was destroyed by “green bombs”, which are basically a more environmentally-friendly version of nukes. People were killed by the millions, cities were destroyed, general devastation resulted — and yet Earth itself is still inhabitable, for those lucky enough to survive the initial bombing.
White Rock is a town located in a deep valley formed by a massive bomb crater, surrounded on all sides by huge mountains. Its limited access — only one tunnel in or out of town — gives it an ideal defensible position. And safest of all, the upper skies over White Rock, and indeed, over the entire Earth, have a layer of mutated air known as Bomb’s Breath — thicker than normal air, instantly deadly when inhaled, yet invisible to the naked eye. The Bomb’s Breath sits over White Rock like a cork along the mountain tops, ensuring that no invaders will ever attempt to invade by crossing the mountains.
But… Hope and her friends have invented a thrilling game, carefully hidden from their parents, that involves holding their breath, climbing up above the Bomb’s Breath layer, and then jumping back through it. As the dense air cushions their fall, they are able to do amazing acrobatics, and dare one another to try riskier and riskier moves. Hope is the absolute best at sky jumping, and finally manages to nail a double somersault as the book opens.
In White Rock, the most valued skill of all is the ability to invent. The green bombs changed not only the air but also the nature of certain metals, so that the survivors have to find new ways to make what they need with the materials readily available — largely wood, water, stone, and the products of their fields. Each year, the townspeople show off their new inventions during a big festival, and everyone from age four upwards is expected to participate. And Hope, to put it bluntly, sucks at inventing. Nothing she makes ever comes off the way she intends, leaving her feeling like the town laughingstock.
The action really revs up when White Rock is invaded by a group of armed bandits, intent on stealing the town’s supply of a rare and valuable antibiotic, and willing to kill in order to get it. However, if the town hands over its supply, it won’t be able to make more until the next spring, by which point a recurring disease may kill off a good portion of the town. All seems lost — but Hope is nothing if not a daredevil, and she knows a secret way out of town. Risking everything, she and her friends set off to get help — but will they get there in time? Can children really save the day?
I won’t say whether Hope’s quest is successful — it’s too much fun to find out on your own! Hope is a brave, strong girl, intensely loyal to her parents, her friends, and her community. Everyone around her can see her strength and her leadership qualities, but it takes this threat to the town for Hope to fully realize that her lack of inventing skills doesn’t mean that she has nothing to contribute.
It’s lovely to see a girl take the lead in a physically grueling plan to escape and rescue her town. Hope is a smart girl who knows the risks she’s taking, but also realizes that if she doesn’t try, the town is doomed. Between her courage and her agility, Hope has pretty much the only chance of success, and you can’t help but root for her as she faces challenge after challenge, thinking ahead, taking chances, and pushing forward even when the odds seem insurmountable.
Start to finish, Sky Jumpers is fast-paced and exciting. The world-building is quite good, portraying a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s different and startling, but not too bleak or depressing for the intended audience. This new world feels like a frontier full of challenge, and even though there are bad guys out there, life itself doesn’t seem particularly awful — just different. Characters are nicely defined — not just Hope, but her parents, teachers, and friends are all distinct personalities with talents, ideas, and inner lives that make them feel like real invidividuals and not just faces in a crowd.
Sky Jumpers is a book I’d have no qualms about handing to a boy or girl in the target age range — in fact, although I read this book both for my own enjoyment and for the purpose of reviewing it here, I’d love to have my 11-year-old son read it next. I think it would be right up his alley.
Well-written, with a dynamic story arc, lots of excitement and adventure, a high-stakes climax full of heroic daring — I’d consider Sky Jumpers a terrific choice for kids in the 8 – 13 age range. And who knows? Perhaps this one will even entice my reluctant reader to read past his bedtime.
Final note: According to the author’s website, Sky Jumpers #2 will be out in Fall 2014. But have no fear! Even though this is apparently an ongoing series, Sky Jumpers is a fully realized story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and stands on its own just fine. But I’ll happily check out book #2 — I’m sure there are great adventures ahead for Hope and for White Rock, and I’d love to see what happens next!
Okay, really the final note: I see from the author’s blog that she’s a Joss Whedon fan. And now it all makes sense. ***happily geeking out…***
Title: Sky Jumpers
Author: Peggy Eddleman
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle grade adventure
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House via NetGalley