Rebel: A Tibetan Odyssey


In the closed society of turn-of-the-century Tibet, the outside world is a threatening place. But not to Thunder. Ever rebellious, he longs to become a trader and visit faraway places.

But when he has forbidden contact with a foreign explorer, Thunder is banished from his village. He is forced to join a monastery to lead a quiet life of study and meditation under the tutelage of his uncle, a high-ranking monk. At the monastery, though, life is anything but quiet. Thunder has to ...

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In the closed society of turn-of-the-century Tibet, the outside world is a threatening place. But not to Thunder. Ever rebellious, he longs to become a trader and visit faraway places.

But when he has forbidden contact with a foreign explorer, Thunder is banished from his village. He is forced to join a monastery to lead a quiet life of study and meditation under the tutelage of his uncle, a high-ranking monk. At the monastery, though, life is anything but quiet. Thunder has to stand up to Zang-po, his uncle's resentful servant, and--even worse--defend himself against Pounder, the menacing soldier who endangers his life. Will he find peace at the monastery, or will he rebel against the life set out for him?

Readers will come to care about Thunder as they turn the pages of this fast-paced, engrossing story set in a truly captivating time and place.

Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL)

Although he rebels against life in the Tibetan Buddhist monastery where he had been sent, fourteen-year-old Thunder comes to some amazing realizations about himself.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Young Thunder is growing up in turnofthecentury Tibet, a closed land whose people harbor a deep suspicion of strangers—with, we come to realize, some good reason. Banished from his village for his contact with a foreigner, Thunder must join the Tharpa Dok monastery under the tutelage of his uncle, First Aku Gyalo. Despite himself, he arrives, through a combination of circumstance and volition, at an understanding of self, and a notion of what wisdom might be in dramatically changing times. A glossary of unfamiliar words is a helpful addition. This reviewer noticed the absence of a pronunciation guide, for those readers who feel inclined to do more than skim. 2000, HarperCollins, Ages 10 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
It's unclear to me how much most American YAs know about Tibet. If they have heard about the Dalai Lama and seen a film such as Seven Years in Tibet, this book may surprise them. (It surprised me.) Whitesel did what research she could, but there is little known by those outside the Tibetan tradition about Tibet before foreigners arrived there. She chooses to set this novel about 100 years ago, as the first foreigners—explorers, traders, and missionaries—found the country. She has their accounts as references, but still she tells the story from a young Tibetan boy's point of view—Thunder, a rebel. She provides a glossary of terms but otherwise expects her young readers to get absorbed in a cultural experience difficult to comprehend. Thunder meets a foreigner at the beginning of the story, an absolutely forbidden thing to do because of an 8th-century prophecy that "When the iron bird flies and horses move on wheels, Tibetans will be scattered like ants around the world." To avoid this disaster (which in fact has now occurred), Tibetans were strict to let no foreigner enter their land and to have no contact with those who managed to do so. As a punishment, Thunder is sent by his family to a monastery where his uncle will be a mentor to him. The life Thunder encounters there is the surprising part—the bullying among the young monks, the violence, superstition, power plays all seem to dominate what we would expect to be a quiet, spiritual life. Getting to know his uncle, becoming a friend and advisor to the young Samjam who is believed to be the reincarnation of a lama, committing a terrible infraction of the community's rules are aspects of Thunder's new experience thatchange him forever. In the end, the reader does come away with some understanding of Buddhist philosophy and training, but it is subtle. YA readers with an interest in Buddhism, Tibet, or just exotic places and times will be interested in this unusual story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, HarperCollins, 190p, $15.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
Fourteen-year-old Thunder yearns for adventure outside Tibet. When his forbidden contact with a foreigner is discovered, he is banished to a monastery to study for monkhood. Although he is hounded by a guard and is a poor student, Thunder is selected nevertheless as the playmate for the five-year-old boy recognized as the incarnation of a high lama. Envied by his peers and disillusioned with his teacher, Thunder smuggles the child outside the monastery. When they are captured and released by British soldiers, Thunder returns to reconcile with his teacher and to embrace monasticism. The early 1900 setting in this tale is unclear until the afterword. The author's heavy reliance on tell versus show whizzes the book along, more outline than story. Characters are stereotypical—wise monk, bad uncle, jealous boys. Readers might empathize with Thunder's labors in a kitchen that smells like "a mouth full of bad breath," but most other descriptions neither elucidate character nor advance plot. Tibetan words, unintelligible from context, will send readers scurrying to the glossary. Thunder, who displays no aptitude for contemplative life, is depicted as triumphantly self-realized when he finally accepts monasticism as his karma. American young adults might be incredulous to note that he gives no thought to the celibacy required of monastic life. Whitesel interviewed refugees and studied Tibetan documents in Hong Kong for this ambitious but flawed attempt to interpret Tibet for YAs. Although stylistically dated, Peter Dickinson's Tulku (Dutton, 1979) is a more compelling work. Glossary. VOYA CODES: 2Q 2P M (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; For the YA with aspecial interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, HarperCollins, 190p, $15.95. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Mary E. Heslin

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-As the 19th century turned into the 20th, most of the world was open to travelers. One exception was Tibet, a closed society whose people believed an eighth-century prophecy that caused them to prohibit any foreigners from entering their country; those who did were often brutally murdered. Unfortunately, the flap copy gives the only clue as to when this story takes place. When Thunder becomes separated from his younger brother and uncle during a fierce rainstorm, he becomes anxious and exhausted. Found by a foreigner who gives him some medicine, he returns home. When his family realizes he had been in contact with a "fringie," they protect him from the wrath of the villagers by sending him to live with his uncle, an important lama in a Buddhist monastery. Working first in the kitchen and later living as an apprentice monk, Thunder finds himself immersed in a world of gentle ritual and sometimes frightening power. Whitesel paints a convincing picture of this world, full of unfamiliar sights, strange people, and a harsh landscape. Many fascinating, well-developed characters fill the pages-fearsome Pounder, the captain of the soldiers; kind, crippled Seventh Hand, the kitchen boy; and Samjam Rimpoche, the tulku who wishes he was still Little Radish-though their actions sometimes are more useful to the plot than true to their natures. Still, despite too many coincidences, Thunder's quest to understand who he is and where he belongs is compelling.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Fruit of two years' overseas research and interviewing, Whitesel's tale of a teenager's coming of age is a perceptive study of social, spiritual, and cultural values. In the opening years of the 20th Century, Thondup Dorje, known as "Thunder," is terrified to realize that the trader who has rescued him from a mountain storm is a "fringie" (white foreigner) in disguise. Confusingly, and contrary to everything Thunder has ever been told, the man doesn't seem at all demonic; still, as one considered dangerously contaminated, Thunder is hustled off to the distant gompu (monastery) where his eldest uncle, an influential lama, resides. There, he encounters kindness and cruelty, malice, courage, narrow superstition mingled with transcendental wisdom—and some disturbing ideas, including the radical notion that his life need not be entirely dictated by others. Through Thunder's eyes, the author presents traditional Tibetan attitudes and customs with sometimes bemused respect. With brilliant subtlety, she also provides glimpses of a Buddhist worldview in which all acts carry a karmic burden or reward (the two being sometimes indistinguishable), and as young bodies house old souls, even small children are capable of insight and compassion beyond their physical years. Profoundly changed by his experiences, Thunder turns in the end, armed with a clearer vision of his life's path, toward a prophesied future in which Tibet's long isolation will end in violence and exile. A strong debut that will give readers both a wide-angle view of a threatened culture, and of one young man's personal search for truth. (afterword, bibliography, glossary)(Fiction.11-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688167356
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 10 - 18 Years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Rochester, New York, Cherly Aylward Whitesel has also lived in Illinois, Louisiana, and Michigan and spent twelve years in Asia. After her son was born, she abandoned her law career and decided to pursue the dream she had since the age of eight--to write books for young people. She and her husband, Paul Cassingham, have a fifteen-year-old son, Ross, and a talking parakeet named Ping. Ms. Whitesel lives in Western Springs, Illinois. Rebel is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Thunder stood where the ground slanted up and the wind whipped his hair. Below him a caravan of traders and yaks snaked through the narrow pass that led into this valley from the world beyond. His uncle and his brother Joker struggled down the sheer path toward their village. But Thunder hung back, spellbound by the shaggy yaks lumbering along under the ash-colored sky, the bells strung around their necks tinkling now and then. It fascinated him that strangers found their way here only to leave at once and roam far away.

Like all Tibetan caravans, this one was made up of people and animals, but no carts. An ancient prophecy said that when wheeled vehicles came to Tibet, the country would be conquered by foreigners–fringies.

"Let's go see the traders!" Thunder called to the others. He wanted to bury his nose in the yaks' tangled fur and find out once and for all whether, coming from so far away, they smelled different from the village yaks.

But as he started down the shale toward the caravan, Second Uncle Tendruk shouted back at him, "Thunder, no closer! They're fringies."

Reluctantly Thunder turned away from the caravan and followed his uncle. "Fringies, Second Aku Tendruk?" he asked. "No, they're Tibetan yaks and Tibetan traders."

"They're not from our village," Tendruk growled. "That's fringie enough." With a tight jaw Tendruk nodded at the can of wildflowers at Thunder's feet. They had spent the afternoon in the meadow above their village of Chu Lungba, collecting herbs to pound into medicine. Now they were on their wayhome.

Thunder picked up the can. But walking backward to catch a last glimpse of the caravan, he soon lagged behind again. From a distance he spun around and burst out, "Second Aku, why do you always hold me back from talking to the traders?"

"Talking to traders is not our way!" Tendruk barked, his eyes furious as he looked back at Thunder.

But Thunder raised his voice, running over his uncle's words in a rush: "You say fringie, but what do you know about fringies? Have you ever been outside Tibet? Or even outside our valley?"

"Brazen questions!" Tendruk shouted, striding toward Thunder with his fist up.

Thunder stuck out his chin and opened his mouth to argue, then realized that Tendruk looked ready to hit him. He bowed his head instead.

They went on hiking in silence for several minutes before Tendruk added in a tight voice, "I know only one thing about fringies, but Thunder, one thing is enough. Any fringie in Tibet must be killed."

"Because they are like evil spirits," Joker added.

"No more talk about such things," Tendruk commanded.

Their feet crunched rhythmically on the gravel. "Did you know the world is enormous, Aku?" Thunder asked timidly. "It holds five other countries besides Tibet."

Tendruk was gripping the handle of his can hard. "That's not true."

"It is true!" Thunder insisted. "The peddler told me himself, and you know he travels everywhere. He even told me the countries' names. They are China, Queenvictoria, California, England, and Minestrone. Aku . . ." Thunder looked across at Tendruk. What was the use of keeping secrets that would come out sooner or later? "Aku, I want to be a trader myself someday," he said in a rush. "I want to see–"

"We're not traders, I tell you! That's not our way! Now silence! Who knows which evil spirits are listening?" This time Tendruk strode away, leaving his nephews behind.

"Aku," Thunder called weakly, but Tendruk only dashed his hand through the air as he stalked off.

Joker stomped after Tendruk, imitating his walk. But after a few yards he spun around, laughing, and skipped back to Thunder.

"Stop it," Thunder muttered, but when Joker's expression turned worried, Thunder cuffed him good-naturedly. "Silly Bones," he said with a chuckle. "Look who thinks he knows about serious things like evil spirits and fringies."

"Of course I know about evil spirits," Joker chirped. "Children sense their presence. And you heard Second Aku, fringies are practically evil spirits, too. Or worse. You are as naughty to talk about one as about the other."

"I didn't say even one naughty thing about evil spirits," Thunder said, but he closed his hand over the silver charm box he always wore on a yak-hair cord around his neck to protect himself from demons.

"You talked about fringies, and that's not our way!" Joker cried as he scampered up the path in front of his brother.

"I did not."

"I'm scaring you! I am!"

"You are not! Besides, if you can sense evil spirits, so can I."

"No, no, no," Joker said, shaking his head. "Fourteen is too old. Look up there, the evil spirits are coming for you already. The sky is gray because they're wearing gray chubas!"

"They're coming for you. Now stop it!" Thunder commanded. "It isn't funny!" His can knocked against Joker's leg, spilling most of the flowers onto the path.

But Joker never knew when to quit. "It is so funny," he said. "Evil spirits are coming after you, but they can't catch me!" He shot over the crest of the hill and was gone.

"Joker! Get back here!" Thunder stared after him, waiting for him to come skipping back like before. When he didn't, Thunder looked toward where the traders had been. But they had disappeared, too. He sighed and began to gather the spilled flowers, expecting Joker to appear any minute and wrestle him to the ground.

He straightened up and looked around, realizing with a jolt that a storm was looming all around him. Rain clouds were rolling in overhead; the juniper bushes flapped hard.

Soon it was raining, and before he could collect all the flowers, those on the ground were transparent and limp.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2000

    Fascinating Glimpse of a Very Different Culture

    Tibet has always been very difficult to understand, so different from Western culture. 'Rebel' lets a reader see Tibet from the inside, through the eyes of Tibetans at home there, not through the eyes of Western visitors. It gave me a feel for what it might be like to actually be Tibetan, and helped me to see how people from other non-Western cultures might think and feel. Definitely not just for teenagers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2000

    I loved it!!

    Wow! What a wonderful window into Tibetan culture. The excitement kept my nephew reading, and there is a spiritual side to the story that greatly interested me. I learned a lot about Tibet at the turn of the century, but the information never got in the way of the story.

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