Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's Hear It For The Boys!

With the start of the new school year practically breathing down my sunburned summer neck, I suppose it is time to start thinking like the educator I be.  And what better way to get back into the swing of the season than with a book review?  

For the record, I can think of lots of better ways.  Retirement, a lottery win or finding a pot 'o gold all spring to mind.  But this is the best I got right now...

A recent study conducted by the Young Adult Library Services Association reports that the #1 reason boys don't like to read is that they find it pretty boring.  In response to this, author James Patterson, along with co-author Michael Ledwidge, has come out with a new novel aimed specifically at the young male reader.  As an educator whose caseload consists primarily of boys (and reluctant readers, at that), I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to do a Mother-Talk review for this book.

As with all my previous reviews for Mother-Talk, I write this not from the "mom" perspective, but as a long-time special education teacher, counselor and parenting educator.  My thoughts, suggestions and reflections are designed as guidelines for families when making choices for their children's reading material and with the understanding that all children are different.  As parents, you are the experts on your own kids and know best what will be a good reading experience for them.  

Now, without further ado, let me introduce you to Daniel and his story as told in...

Daniel X Image

Daniel's life, already somewhat different from that of the average boy, changed for the worse at the tender age of three.  While upstairs in his room completing a museum quality replica of the Lighthouse Of Alexandria out of Play-doh, he hears his parents attacked and brutally murdered.  Daniel escapes the assassin through the timely use of his special powers but now finds himself alone and saddled with the awesome responsibility of carrying on his parent's work.  

It is fifteen year old Daniel who tells his own story.  From his perspective, we learn of the ominous threats to our planet courtesy of alien forces and his role as a defender of our world.  Gifted with the power to manipulate the space around him, create his own environment and fill it with people to help him, he bravely works through The List Of Alien Outlaws On Terra Firma, dispatching invaders as his powers become strong enough to overwhelm them.

His greatest desire, though, is to find and destroy the alien responsible for the deaths of his parents.  In this first installment of the series, he is afforded that very opportunity.  The obstacles are many and Daniel's chances of success somewhat iffy.  But he is determined to see this killer brought to justice.

Daniel is, quite simply, one of the most heartbreakingly lonely characters I've come across in a novel.  He is a boy rather unlike any other boy and certainly mature beyond his years.  Hence, he is capable of remarkable insight into his solitary condition.  And yet he is still very much a child, however much the world has conspired to make an adult of him.  In an effort to find some connection to others, he surrounds himself with family and friends of his own making and develops strong, meaningful relationships with them.  In the end, though, these creations have short lives and must eventually leave him until he can renew his strength enough to bring them back.  For Daniel, it always seems to come back to being alone in the world.

It is this sad combination of brave, independent alien hunter and lonely little boy that makes the character of Daniel so compelling.  As I watched him seek ways to connect with someone, be they real or of his own creation, I found myself both saddened and cheered by his unwillingness to let go of neither his mission nor his dreams.

The tale is quickly paced, perhaps even a little jarringly so for an adult reader.  However, the story is deep enough that adjustments are easily made.  The speed with which the plot moves should certainly appeal to the target audience (young males) quite handily.  There is a great deal of suspense and drama, but resolutions are reached speedily and the next conflict introduced smoothly.  

In terms of overall readability, I found this novel to be a bit more challenging than the previous book I reviewed by this author.  I would suggest that this story might prove comfortable for those reading at or around the 7th grade level.  In addition, it would prove useful if the reader has solidly mastered either the skills necessary for decoding nonsense words or being able to "read around" them.  Due to the nature of the story, there is some use of invented language.  It would be illogical for the average alien invader to be named Bob, after all.  However, as I stated previously, all children are different in their approach to reading material.  One never really knows to what challenges they will rise in the interest of enjoying a good book.  Use what you know about your child and his own approach to reading material.  

As of this writing, this book has not been included in the Lexile database.  If this is information you would like to have on your child's behalf, I would suggest checking the website regularly.  I would anticipate that it will be included fairly soon given the distribution of the book.

As one who has often worked with children who have run across some challenges in life, I like to be aware of potential emotional land mines in a story.  I have frequently used literature as a means for helping kids process the negative experiences they have had in their lives but one doesn't want to bring them up without a little forewarning.  For those of you considering this novel for more sensitive children, here are a few of the themes that might prove tricky or need some support:


*Contextually appropriate violence.  Not extreme, but could be hard for some kids to process


*Social difficulties, particularly the early exploration of male/female relationships.  Innocently handled, not a huge concern for parents unless there are extenuating circumstances

*Parentification of children due to loss or abandonment

The Dangerous Days Of Daniel X most certainly hits the mark in terms of its ability to engage the young male reader.  It combines the appeal of an highly likable main character with a fast-paced and action-packed story line.  I would recommend it to readers of all ages who like a good tale and love it when the bad guys get a little of what's coming to 'em!  Further, it allows a male character to be sensitive and to reflect on his life in such a way as to model the behavior for other young boys but still do it in an authentic and believable manner.  

However, I'd suggest you make your move quickly on this one.  According to the promotional information I received with my review copy, the movie is soon to be in the making.  Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm a huge fan of books being made into films and always enjoy seeing how the makers translate the text into a visual medium.  I've also been grading book reports long enough to know that many young readers do not understand the difference between those two experiences.  I have also noted a stronger tendency in boys to set aside the book in favor of the movie ticket.  I think it would be a shame for kids to miss out on experiencing this novel in print.  

That said...the movie will probably be pretty cool!

Well, there you go!  Sheepie uses a book review as a means for reminding herself that she needs to be thinking more like a teacherly sort of person instead of as a lady of leisure.  It didn't really work all that well...but I got to read a pretty good book so I guess it all evens out!  Maybe tomorrow I'll organize the bookbag and see if I can't find my grown-up shoes!

Or not...



Mia said...

Very nice review Sheepie! You got MAD writting skillz. hehe Now I might just have to read that one :)

trek said...

I skipped reading the review since I haven't read Daniel X yet and I'm also reviewing it for MT. I am also trying to recruit a young male to read it and give me his opinion...

Oh, and don't bother looking for the grown-up shoes. The AGK's been using them as toys. Just go buy new ones - they won't have cat spit on them. ;o)

Mel said...

Sounds like a very good possibility for my 13-year-old nephew.

Beth said...

I always enjoy reading your book reviews. Do you think a 14 year old girl who loves the Artemis Fowl books would like this book?

Anne said...

Great review! I think I've actually already seen a trailer for the movie? How fast to they convert reading material to visuals in Hollywood these days??!?

Donna Lee said...

It sounds like a Michael Crichton or Dean Koontz story line. I think that boys are turned off because they like action and so many times books are boring. This sounds like a winner all around.

Karen said...

Excellent review. Sounds like you are mentally ready to return to work. I hope you can find your shoes when the actual day arrives.