Zan-Gah by Allan Richard Shickman
Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.
The hero, Zan-Gah seeks his lost twin in a savage prehistoric world, encountering suffering, captivity, conflict, love, and triumph. In three years, Zan-Gah passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a position of leadership among his people. Themes: survival, cultures, gender roles, psychological trauma, nature's wonders and terrors. (Courtesy of Goodreads)
I wasn't sure about Zan-Gah at the beginning. It was wordy and had a tone that felt wondrous, impersonal, and unrelatable. I think it was trying to establish that this is a time long, long ago. The book begins with Zan going on a lion hunt. He ends up killing the lion and being honored by his clan. Having a third person point of view also made it more difficult for me to relate to Zan. But by the end of the first chapter, the story drew me in enough to keep reading.
Zan, who is given the honorific Zan-Gah, goes from one dangerous adventure to the next after he kills the lion. The main plot of the book is the journey (a very lengthy journey) that Zan takes to rescue his twin brother Dael, who has been missing for over a year and is widely presumed to be dead. Zan is sure that Dael is still alive and sets out to find him. The plot moves fast as Zan's fortunes swing up and down. Kids will be fascinated by Zan's life in prehistoric times. He has so little to work with - he has to find his own food, he has no shelter, no established society to help him, potential warfare at any moment, and few things that we now think of as elementary items. It's hard to imagine when a "sling" was a novel weapon, but here it is. At the same time, kids will be interested in how Zan's life is like our own - mostly in relationships. He loves his family, especially his brother. He forms friendships, allies, and makes enemies just as we would today. The author does a good job at making it very clear that Zan's life is not just like that of a modern youth. You knew that Zan's mindset and abilities were very different than ours, but he still has the basic human qualities that make him relatable.
If kids give Zan-Gah a chance, I think they will be captivated by the rollicking adventure story. My one concern is the wordiness. The paragraphs are huge - several are actually a page long. There is very little dialogue. Most books today are characterized by short paragraphs. They're just easier to read. Even though the story is fast moving, I'm afraid the huge paragraphs and sparse dialogue will scare kids away. This might be a better book read aloud so kids don't have to view the long paragraphs as much.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review.