Set in 13th-century China, this novel begins with a 12-year-old boy who witnesses his father's death, then follows him on a journey that takes him to Kublai Khan's court. "With her exuberant, nonstop plotting and supremely colorful setting, the author grabs hold of readers' imaginations and doesn't let go," PW said. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2002: I would double star this if KLIATT allowed such a thing! And it isn't even really a YA novel as we generally consider them. It's quite amazingly imaginative, exotic, and challenging-and it is in the genre of historical fiction, not fantasy. The kite rider is a 12-year-old boy, living in China in the 13th century, at the time of the Kublai Khan. His name is Haoyou. He is talented with his hands and courageous, with a generous spirit; he is also naive and immature. It isn't only Haoyou's story, however, since his older cousin Mipeng, a young woman who is brilliantly insightful, is an essential part of this novel and shares his adventures, saving him from his naivete, which often results in foolishness. The fact that his naivete rests on the Chinese philosophy of blind obedience to one's superiors and to older relatives, even if they should prove to be mean-spirited and corrupt, ups the ante of interest in the meaning of family unity and sacrifice. The book is lengthy for a children's book, over 300 pages, enough to be filled with adventures and characters, all of which are dazzling. Haoyou does ride a kite, in a harness, flying high in the sky, making money from the awestruck audience who believe he can commune with their dead ancestors up in the clouds. He and Mipeng join an itinerant circus traveling to the court of Kublai Khan, the most powerful man in China now that his Mongol warriors have invaded China and conquered the Chinese people. The young man who has taken in Haoyou and Mipeng, who loves Mipeng, has his own agenda for taking his circus to the presence of the Kublai Khan. He too is wrestling with the Chinese way ofobedience to parents, even if it means death. The breathtaking images of so much of the story, of Haoyou flying, of the acrobats in the circus, the Mongol way of execution that avoids spilling blood on the ground, of the den of iniquity, so to speak, where Haoyou's mother must work, the ghastly uncle who must be obeyed, the other villain of the story, an evil man who lusts after Haoyou's mother and seeks the family's destruction-all make for a truly marvelous story. McCaughrean has won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in England for A Pack of Lies; this book too proves her expertise as an author. KLIATT Codes: JS*-Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, HarperCollins, Trophy, 307p., Ages 12 to 18.
The boy Haoyou is fascinated by the novelty of a thirteenth-century Chinese seaport, but pleasure turns to horror when his father is tossed onto a makeshift kite and killed before his eyes. Haoyou's Uncle Bo gives him to a circus where he flies bound to a huge kite, constantly seeking his father's spirit in the clouds. What he finds instead is the acceptance of the Mongols, a people unlike himself, and the strength of character to act independently. In a thrilling climax, he soars in the great typhoon that turned back the Mongol invasion of Japan. On the last page of the book, he is reunited with his mother and friends on a boat. McCaughrean's fluid prose quickly makes the story real and its context concrete. The exotic surroundings do not detract from the central theme of obligation to authority versus fulfilling one's own sense of right. Haoyou feels his father's spirit as simultaneously protective and threatening. The false father figure of Uncle Bo tests Haoyou's core value of obedience to the breaking point. The owner of the circus, a Chinese nobleman in disguise, labors to fulfill his oath to a dead father despite misgivings. Haoyou's struggle to be his own man will strike a chord with many young people. In England, this book won a Smartie Prize and the 2001 BBC Blue Peter Prize for Best Book to Keep Forever. Readers of this year's Newbery Winner, A Single Shard (Houghton Mifflin, 2001/VOYA April 2002) by Linda Sue Park or her earlier The Kite Fighter (Clarion, 2000/VOYA August 2000) will welcome this story of a boy coming of age long ago and far away. The background of the book is generally well researched with an explanatory note to clarify the author's major departure fromhistory. PLB
Eve Nyren Okawa
Gr 5-9-Haoyou is a 12 year old in 13th century China, just conquered by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan. He goes to see his beloved father off on another shipping journey when wicked first mate Di Chou puts in motion a terrible plot. The superstitious Chinese always send aloft a person tied to a large kite to test the wind and the omens to ascertain whether the journey will be profitable. Haoyou's father, Pei, is sent on this mission, and fear makes his heart stop. Haoyou knows Di Chou intentionally arranged this in order to marry Pei's beautiful widow. Adding to the family's problems is the pompous and greedy Uncle Bo, who will do anything for some gold. Haoyou volunteers, somewhat to his horror, to be the kite rider for a ship on which he and his cousin Mipeng have stashed a drunken Di Chou the day before the wedding. The description of Haoyou's combination of complete fear and exhilaration is stirring. The mysterious Miao Je invites Haoyou to join his traveling circus as a kite rider where he becomes a star attraction, always seeking his father's spirit during these dangerous, gut-churning flights. Eventually they meet up with Kublai Khan and Maio Je's secrets are revealed. Details about superstition, codes of behavior and obedience, politics, racism, and daily life in China at this time are superbly conveyed in a beautifully written tale. The full cast recording of the novel by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperCollins, 2002) is not quite convincing, although narrator Cynthia Bishop is excellent. None of Miao Je's charisma is audible nor is Uncle Bo's character portrayed in a seriously sinister way. However, the story is so wonderful that the recording will surely grip listeners.-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
An ancient-and terrifying-maritime practice becomes the impetus for a cracking good adventure story set in 13th-century China, after the Mongol conquest. Haoyou's sailor father dies when sent up on a hatch cover, kite-style, to "test the wind," and he, his beautiful mother, and his baby sister are left in the care of his rapacious and dishonest Great-uncle Bo. With the help of his world-weary cousin Mipeng, a young widow who has been forced into the role of medium, Haoyou manages to avoid the worst of his great-uncle's schemes for himself and his mother, but real escape comes only when he comes to the attention of the charismatic owner of a circus. The Great Miao has heard of the practice of testing the wind, has seen Haoyou himself lofted into the air, and has determined that a kite-rider will be the central act of a show he intends to play before the conqueror Kublai Khan himself. McCaughrean (Roman Myths, 2001, etc.) takes her characters on a dizzying adventure across China even as she takes Haoyou on an inner journey to confront his deeply-held beliefs and prejudices. Haoyou and, to a lesser extent, Mipeng and the Great Miao all struggle with the accepted Confucian teaching that obedience to one's elders must be observed at all costs. While the protagonists' decisions regarding obedience and individualism may not have been the norm at the time, they are not out of place for this moment of great cultural upheaval, and their development is sensitively and at times wryly charted. Haoyou's aerial ecstasy springs vividly off the page for some truly thrilling moments as he soars on his kite while Great-uncle Bo provides a low-humor counterpoint. An author's note follows to contextualize the13th-century and to explain the inspiration for Haoyou's unusual vocation. Fast-paced and densely plotted, absorbing, and at times even hilarious. (Fiction. 11-15)
"A marvelous, soaring story that gives you a glimpse into another world."