Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kidnapped Will Suck You In For A Thrilling Adventure

If you live in the same city as I do (and I know some of you do), you're probably aware that recent budget cuts have forced the school district to eliminate librarian positions. I've heard rumors that the most prevalent reading program in our elementary schools - A.R. - will also be phased out. As a bibliophile with two elementary-age bookworms, this makes me sad. Since we just moved, said bookworms are now attending a school that boasts its own "homegrown" reading program. It's low-tech (kids read books then take paper tests about them to earn points toward rewards), so it should be safe from budget reductions. However, it takes an army of parents to read books, write tests, file tests, grade tests, etc. I'm absolutely thrilled to be one of the soldiers.

So, last week when I went in to help, the lady who runs the library showed me her stack of books for which she needed tests written. I grabbed a few, but the stories in Gordon Korman's Kidnapped series are the ones that really grabbed my attention. Apparently, I'm not the only one so beguiled - the students have been requesting tests right and left for these books. After reading the whole trilogy, I can certainly see why. Although I had never heard of Korman before this, he's written a whole slew of action/adventure books. If they are as riveting as the three I read, I'll be visiting the K section of the children's library in the near future.


Book 1: The Abduction

The first book in the series introduces us to Aiden and Meg Falconer, two kids who were forced to live as fugitives after their parents were jailed on suspicion of aiding terrorists. Although I didn't realize this when I started The Abduction, their whole backstory is told in an earlier series. Anyway, now the kids are back home with their parents, living normal lives. Well, as normal as life can be after weeks on the run. It's a big adjustment for them to be forced to sit still in a classroom after their adrenaline-pumping adventures. At least they're safe and sound now. It's not exactly a peaceful life - there are still people out there who believe the Falconer's are traitors to the U.S. - but at least the kids can sleep in their own beds at night. Now they can put the whole trauma out of their minds and get on with their ordinary lives.

That's what they think until one afternoon when three strangers grab Meg, stuff her into a van, and race off. Aiden manages to get away, but he's appalled that he couldn't save his sister. When the FBI gets involved, none of the Falconers are overjoyed to see Agent Harris again. After all, he's the one responsible for wrongly imprisoning John and Louise Falconer in the first place. Competence obviously isn't the man's strong point.

Aiden's time on the run forced him to trust his instincts; fortunately, he hasn't forgotten how. When he sees an odd news story about a flag that has been forced off its pole, he knows it's a sign from his sister. Agent Harris is under enough pressure after being publicly humiliated by the whole Falconer scandal; he's not about to send men out to investigate Aiden's wild claim. Meanwhile, Meg's holding her own against her abductors. She even manages to slip a Help! note outside the warehouse where she's being held.

When a ransom note appears on a popular website, the FBI decides to try to lure the kidnappers out of hiding. Using Aiden as bait, the agents set their trap. Harris experiences another public humiliation when the plan goes terribly awry, placing two more kids in danger. In the end, Aiden finds himself looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. Will his bravery (stupidity?) get him any closer to his sister, or will all the danger be for naught?

Book Two: The Search

When the second book opens, Meg is bouncing around inside the trunk of her kidnappers' car. Location unknown. Destination unknown. A plan she read about in one of her dad's cheesy detective novels help her escape, but only briefly. The abductors find another cage for her, one they are sure she can't fight her way out of. Once again, they underestimate Meg. Using skills honed during her weeks as a fugitive plus more ideas from her dad's books, she tries to stay ahead of her sinister captors. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she doesn't.

Aiden's so sick with worry that even chess games with his best friend, Richie, can't keep his mind focused. He's ecstatic that bumbling Agent Harris is off the case, but the new guy in charge doesn't seem much more helpful. When Aiden reads a news story about a series of overflowing bathrooms along a rural highway, he knows it is Meg sending him messages. Agent Sorenson dismisses the notion. After a desperate call to Agent Harris, Aiden realizes he's on his own. If he doesn't follow the clues Meg is leaving him, no one will. Sneaking past the FBI agents guarding his home, Aiden begins his own journey, one that will have him hiding in chicken coops, crawling through the sewer and facing the razor-sharp knife of a veteran soldier.

As much as Meg hopes for rescue, she, too, realizes she will have to save herself. With help from a surprising source, she manages to escape, but only to find herself up against a brick wall. Actually, worse. Now, she's lost on an empty mountain with a blizzard threatening her survival.

On the homefront, John and Louise Falconer worry about both of their children, their only comfort coming in the form of blogger extraordinaire, Rufus Sehorn. The only communication from the kidnappers has been through his website. Unfortunately, very little is coming through. Can the FBI find their daughter? What about their son, who's being tracked by the less-than-efficient Agent Harris? After all they have suffered, are they about to lose their children, too?


Book Three: The Rescue

The final book in the series begins right in the middle of the action. Meg is stumbling around in a blizzard trying not to let herself succumb to the nasty storm. A telephone pole gives her an idea - a crazy idea gleaned from the pages of her dad's dumb detective novels. Dumb as it might be, her efforts attract the attention of Aiden and Agent Harris, who begin a mad search for any sign of Meg or her kidnappers.

The blizzard makes their search nearly impossible, and try as they might, they can't find Meg. When they finally stumble upon the kidnappers' hideout, Aiden and Agent Harris find help from the most unlikely of sources. They're hot on the trail as the abductors set up a ransom drop.

Tired of waiting for the FBI to find Meg, John and Louise Falconer turn to the one person who has supported them along the way - blogger Rufus Sehorn. He vows to gather the $3 million the kidnappers are demanding. Soon, the adults are sneaking by the agents watching the house, speeding toward the drop spot without any police backup. When they arrive at the abandoned mine, the elder Falconers receive a shock that changes everything about the whole kidnapping.

When all parties converge on the mine, it becomes a life-and-death showdown. With guns, a growling bear, and tunnels that could collapse at any moment, it's a dangerous situation for everyone. Who will be trapped in the deteriorating mine? Who will come out alive? What are the real reasons behind Meg's kidnapping? Most important of all, will the Falconers lives every be normal again?

My Thoughts - I can definitely see why kids like these books. The fast-paced, exciting plots kept me riveted. They are quick reads - each took me about 1 1/2 hours - which is a good thing because I couldn't resist racing through them to find out what was going to happen. The stories all offer twists, turns and thrilling cliffhangers, but they don't quite triumph over predictability. I enjoyed the various schemes the Falconer kids come up with, but they are all pretty far-fetched. I also think the whole idea of the kidnapping might scare some kids. When my 6-year-old asked to read the books, I told her no, because I think they would give her nightmares. Of course, the kids triumph in the end, mostly by using their own skills and intuition, but I just think the whole idea of a kidnapping is too frightening for my daughter. In addition, the books don't portray police and FBI agents in a very good light. I'm sure it's realistic in some ways, but it bothered me a little. Still, Korman pens a fun, action-packed adventure series that will suck in even reluctant readers.

Grade: B

(Book images from Barnes & Noble)

4 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved his I Want To Go Home! when I was an elementary-aged bookworm. It sounds very different from these, though - it's about a smart-alecky kid who is determined to run away from summer camp. Definitely more humor than action-adventure. I think I may have read one or two others of his book in grade school, but that's the one that stuck.

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  2. Susan, I was so excited to read this post. Gordon Korman is my very most favorite childrens author. I've been reading his books since elementary school and can't wait until Alden can enjoy them.

    I thought I had read all of his books, but of course I stopped checking long ago. I will have to put myself on the waiting list for this series at the library. I love the Bruno & Boots series, but I Want To Go Home is my very favorite. My copy has been through the wringer 12 times but I keep it for sentimentality. It is the funniest book I have ever read! I re-read it every year or so, and always recommend it to boys about 8-12. TJ would like it.

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  3. You've sucked me in!! I've never heard of this guy or these books, but I want to go and read them!! Am putting them on my Amazon wishlist NOW!!

    Thanks!

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  4. You guys have convinced me - I have to read I Want To Go Home. I tried to find it at my local libraries, but none of them have it. Is it still in print?

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