Book Review: Red Kayak

Rating: ★★★★★

Thirteen-year-old Brady Parks, the son of a Maryland waterman, is secure in his small community. One day he babysits for Ben, the young son of a new neighbor. The next thing he knows he is being pulled out of school to help look for Ben, who went missing with his mother while kayaking.  He becomes the town hero by bringing Ben home alive, but the boy dies soon afterward. Following this incident he discovers the kayak was tampered with, and he struggles to know what to do with the information.

It’s not easy to create a character ordinary enough for readers to identify with, yet admirable enough to be worth emulating. Brady is an average kid — eager to be accepted by his peer group, moderately ambitious about becoming a waterman, secure in his family. But in extreme circumstances, his character shines. Though not perfect, he is courageous, compassionate, and generous.  He suffers with the guilt, isolation and uncertainty brought on by the choices of others, and takes some time to make up his mind what to do.  Throughout his trouble he is supported by a stable, loving family, who express gracious love toward him despite his erratic behavior.

Although Cummings’ excellent writing makes for enjoyable reading, this is a serious book, and sensitive readers will rightfully be troubled by it.  Brady has something to lose no matter what he does, and although his choices do eventually lead to a satisfying conclusion, the whole story is tinged with sadness. Even this is an opportunity for good, though: this ordinary boy looks senseless death in the face, and rather than retreating he takes action to help.  In this action he discovers the kind of person he really is.

The writing level is accessible to 8-12-year-olds, but the themes of death and grief may be too mature for that age range.  I’d recommend this book for middle school and up.

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Publication Information: Cummings, Priscilla. Red Kayak. Dutton. 2004. ISBN: 0142405736.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 12-16
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Posted on November 21, 2014

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