A First Foray Into YA
Welcome to my first YA book review! I’m very excited to delve into this popular reading genre for my seventh book review thus far! As a teacher and mom of pre-adolescents, young adult (YA) fiction has definitely been a part of both my work and home life for some time. Additionally, I also choose to enjoy YA books for my own pleasure reading, even though I am obviously not a ‘YA’ any longer! I’m more of a MAA, I suppose. (That’s “Middle Aged Adult” to you. ?)
Therefore, when I was asked to read and review the book Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading, I was quite excited to do so! Upon finishing, the story did not disappoint, either! It was a real page-turner from beginning to end. In this book, adventure and mystery take center stage. A generous sprinkling of history lessons top off a plot full of exciting twists and turns, altogether resulting in an engaging read for middle-grade readers and up!
Female MCs: We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
As a young reader, I usually gravitated toward realistic fiction series books. Typically, the main characters in the books I chose to read were female, my age, and similar to who I was back then. However back in those days, strong female characters who were badass, heroic, unique, or extraordinary were pretty scarce in young adult books, overall.
Which, in retrospect, makes me kinda sad.
On the bright side, I did enjoy the stories I read. Fueled by female protagonists, some of my childhood favorites are now even considered ‘classics.’ Margaret Simon from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie. The Babysitters Club girls. These were all literary characters that had personalities I’d describe as unique, relatable, and complex.
However, I wouldn’t categorize any of them as extraordinary. Or heroic.
Except for maybe Laura Ingalls. Half Pint had chuzpah. But her badassery was intermittent, and sadly, often shut down quickly. Not that I blame Laura one bit for that; in the 1880s, her Pa could, like, beat and whip her and stuff.
#Realtalk: Ain’t no CPS on the prairie.
Two other characters I can recall from my childhood reading life who could possibly fall into the categories of ‘extraordinary’ or ‘mighty’ are Pippi Longstocking and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. However, there is one major caveat with both ladies: in both the Pippi and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, elements of fantasy had a strong presence in the plot. Said fantastical elements were pretty much what made both Pippi and Mrs. P extraordinary in the first place.
Therefore, Pippi and Mrs. P don’t count.
In 2017, strong female leads in YA literature are pretty much the norm, rather than the exception. I mean come on– Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen, and Tris Prior? That’s a trio of femme badassery if ever there was one.
Another name to add to the “badass female characters” list? Ms. Kitty Alexandra Hawk.
In this online review of Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold, the character of Kitty Hawk is described as “a cross between Amelia Earhart, Nancy Drew, and Pippi Longstocking.” That, to me, is about as accurate a description as one can get. Though I’d also add Curious George to the mix to round it out completely. Read on to find out why!
Kitty HawkAmelia Earhart
Right away in chapter one, Kitty Hawk informs the reader of her passion in life: flying. As the daughter of a seaplane pilot who literally lives “where North America meets the Pacific Ocean” (Reading, 7) in Tofino, British Columbia, Canada, flying has been a part of Kitty’s life since birth. It is in her blood, you could say. Even as a very young child, when placed at the wheel of a plane, Kitty Hawk showed a natural aptitude for flying.
The town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was where Orville and William Wright took their first, historical airplane flight. It is also Kitty Hawk’s namesake! In the book, most of the historical information presented is 100% true. In the back of the book, author Iain Reading even includes a section called “further reading” that one could use as a guide to learn more about any of the various topics covered in this book! But more on that, later.
Kitty Hawk is an eighteen-year old seaplane pilot. Her interests include flying, humpback whales, and adventure. She actually owns her very own De Havilland Beaver seaplane! This, of course, is the main connection Kitty has to famed pilot Amelia Earhart. But besides the fact that Kitty and Amelia are both pilots, there is another significant parallel between them. This particular similarity is mainly why Amelia Earheart is considered a feminist icon today, and also why Kitty Hawk is such a strong female lead character.
Both Earheart and Hawk are fearless AF.
I’ll be the first to admit that I would be terrified to attempt to fly around the world nowadays, and that’s with cell phones, GPS and radar. In 1937, there were only radio transmissions and radio navigation. Earhart had a “direction-finding system” in her aircraft powered by a “loop antenna,” for Pete’s sake (according to Wikipedia). Yeah, I would NOT be first in line to fly around the world in a plane with the equivalent of “rabbit ears” guiding me. #Nope. Big props to Amelia for attempting such a feat.
Kitty Hawk is similarly fearless, though I won’t go into detail regarding how. I wouldn’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t yet read it! But trust me, Kitty has some Grade A chutzpah, herself.
Kitty HawkNancy Drew
Growing up, I owned a few Nancy Drew mystery books. I probably read one or two of them, and I’m pretty sure I found the stories enjoyable. However, I do recall thinking that some story details seemed dated and old-fashioned back when I was a kid. Therefore, I can’t even imagine what today’s Gen Z adolescents would think about them, that being the case!
However, in a review of a Nancy Drew book I do believe I actually owned as a kid called The Hidden Staircase (Nancy Drew mystery no. 2), Nancy herself is described as “[a plucky], problem-solving, [tenacious], and [fearless]… timeless heroine.”
Kitty Hawk can be described in a similar fashion. However, a big difference between the Kitty Hawk series and the Nancy Drew series is that the Nancy Drew series’ story plots are referred to as “predictable.” It is said in the same review referenced above that author Carolyn Keene has “figured out a formula that works and has stood the test of time.” In Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold, and I am pretty certain this can also be said about the Kitty Hawk series as a whole, no such “formula” exists. Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is chock-full of exciting twists and turns in the plot. Which is how I prefer my YA books to be!
Kitty HawkPippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking is the main character in a Swedish children’s book series, written by author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is described on her Wikipedia page as “red-haired, freckled, unconventional and superhumanly strong – able to lift her horse one-handed. She is playful and unpredictable. She often makes fun of unreasonable adults, especially if they are pompous and condescending. Her anger comes out in extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats his horse. Pippi, like Peter Pan, does not want to grow up.”
Oh, the parallels! It’s like Pippi is Kitty’s long-lost cousin.
First, the obvious. Yes. Kitty Hawk is a redhead, like Pippi. She is also an unconventional teenager, being a seaplane pilot and all. In Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold, Kitty Hawk herself even states that in the hierarchy of her high school, she is/was a nerd, point blank (Reading, 14).
Besides the similarities listed above, there are even more Pippi parallels as one digs deeper, beneath the surface character traits. While Kitty Hawk is not physically as strong as Pippi Longstocking, she definitely has stronger coping skills, problem solving abilities, and overall emotional maturity than most eighteen year olds do. What Pippi Longstocking possesses in physical strength, Kitty Hawk has the equivalent of in brainpower.
Kitty, like Pippi, also has a both a playful side and an unpredictable side. Without giving too much away, I will just say that Kitty’s unpredictability lies in several of the decisions she makes in the book. Also, like her soul sister Pippi, Kitty becomes quite angry in cases of unfairness or injustice, especially when either involve those she cares about. Altogether, these traits make Kitty Hawk very much a likable character, which is again, much like my girl Pippi.
Does Kitty Hawk, like Pippi Longstocking, not want to grow up? Perhaps. Newly graduated from high school, Kitty is unsure of her long-term plans for the future. However, she is very passionate about her short-term goals, one of which is studying the habits of humpback whales for the duration of the summer after graduation. Thus, in a way, I suppose Kitty’s reluctance to join the traditional adult world could be considered a “Peter Pan-type complex.” However Kitty Hawk is not exactly traditional, herself!
Kitty HawkCurious George
- Does Kitty’s curiosity often lead her into situations for which she is slightly to extremely unprepared? Check.
- Does Kitty’s adventures end up causing her family and friends to worry about her current whereabouts and/or overall well-being? Check.
- Does Kitty crave knowledge regarding particular topics of interest? Check.
- Does Kitty’s curiosity frequently result in unforgettable adventures? Check.
I smell a monkey!
The Fascinating World of Alaska and Western Canada
I loved Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold for personal reasons as well as for the pleasure reading a great story brings me. You see, back before we had kids, Mike and I did quite a bit of traveling. We drove cross country on two different occasions, and to date have visited about 90% of the 50 nifty United States.
On our honeymoon, waaay back in May, 2004, we chose to take a month off and drove cross country from New York to Washington. From a port in Seattle, we then took a cruise to lower Alaska that lasted about a week. We also docked in British Columbia briefly as well, most likely near where much of this book took place.
Alaska is truly a different world. In May, the sky is only dark for about 5 hours a night. Snow still resides on the mountaintops in spring. Towns are tiny, and not very populous. The capital of Alaska, Juneau, which Mike and I did visit, is only reachable by boat or seaplane. No roads connect Juneau to the rest of North America. Geographically, culturally, and historically, Alaska is absolutely one of a kind, as well as a truly fascinating place to visit. Reading Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold actually taught me more about Alaska than I knew before, and I enjoyed the learning aspect of the book very much. Which leads me to…
History Lessons Galore
Besides learning about Alaska’s culture and geography, Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold had a lot of real American history details woven through the fictional adventure-mystery storyline. Throughout the story, much is discussed regarding the historic 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. In fact, the book actually delves deeper into that particular historical period than I ever did in high school social studies. Even the legends referenced in the book have some historical truth to them, though the way the tales affect the overall storyline of the book is pure fiction.
I learned a lot as I read about a smattering of different topics in this book. Seaplane flying, humpback whales, local Alaska history (such as the “ghost town” of Dyea), the Chilkoot Trail, grizzly bear tracking and “standing your ground” in the face of a grizzly bear charge (OMG I could NOT handle that), the Northern Lights, gold mining processes and machinery, and Yukon-area authors associated with the Yukon Gold Rush were all covered in the book, interwoven into the story’s arc.
If ever there was a “Yukon” category on Jeopardy, I’d certainly be ready for it now.
While I learned a lot of new information as I read, the book was not in any way “teachy.” It was one of those deals where I learned a lot without even trying to. And isn’t that really the best way to learn?
What a great read this was! I thoroughly enjoyed the story, as well as getting to know a wonderful new young heroine in the main character of Kitty Hawk. I actually plan to loan the book to my oldest daughter S11, as I think she may enjoy it as well!
Thank you for reading. Until next time!
Disclosure: The book was provided to the reviewer. All thoughts belong to the reviewer and have not been influenced.