Monday, February 14, 2011

Male Monday: Operation Redwood

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French 2009
Amulet Books/Harry N. Abrams

Rating: 5/5

IQ "Robin's mom always says, 'A way will open.' [Julian]

'And do you believe this?' [strange lady ;)]

Did he? He chose his words carefully. 'Maybe not on its own. But maybe, if you keep trying to really think about how to make something happen, it could happen. Not always. But if you're lucky.'" Julian pg. 326

Julian Carter-Li opens an angry email message that is intended for his uncle, Sidley Carter, a CEO of a very important company (IPX). His uncle's company has bought a grove of redwood trees that are hundreds of years old and the company intends on tearing them all down. Julian doesn't intend to get involved at first, but the sender of that email turns out to be Robin, a girl close to Julian's age (twelve). He's intrigued by someone his own age brave enough to call his uncle a jerk and stand up for what she believes in. Julian knows very little about this robin, but with the help of his best friend, Danny he is going to break into an office, live in a tree and maybe, just maybe, save the redwoods.

There is not a single thing I didn't like about this book. Some might complain that it started off rather slow but I live for slow contemporary starts, I like getting to know every little detail about the main character and their friends. Sure some things are a little too convenient (Danny speaks Spanish but Julian doesn't speak Spanish so naturally Danny must translate often. also Julian's Chinese grandmother writes for a sizable newspaper), but who cares? This story is too fun to get wrapped up in such minor things. I'm a sucker for kids and teens engaging in social justice because I think too many books only show us as selfish brats who don't care about the future of our world. That's simply not true and this author gets that. At the core of this book (or the trunk of this book, and yes there will be more annoying tree metaphors) is a message of environmentalism. Here we have three kids who don't have an extraordinary amount of resources available to them and yet they manage to come up with a plan, a plan that has the potential to work. They aren't hackers or geniuses or super wealthy, instead they have lots of heart and pool together their respective brain power to find a solution. These qualities make the book an interesting read and one that is authentic. I could easily see myself and other kids in middle school coming up with a similar plan (instead of those outrageous plots that you know would never work out in real life. Not that those can't be fun). The core has different branches that all lead back to the plan to save the redwoods but they divert (in the best of ways) to stories dealing with racism, family abandonment, strong friendships and the actual application of what we learn in school.

In addition to the save-the-trees message that rocked, I also adored the subtle displays of racism. In today's world, rarely do we see outright prejudice and Operation Redwood perfectly reflects that fact. Julian's mother travels a lot and his father died when he was seven, so when Julian's mother leaves for China for several months, he has to go live with his uncle Sibley. Sibley is his father's brother and while Sibley's young son, Preston, adores Julian, Sibley and his wife do not. Sibley's wife, Daphne, goes out of his way to make sure Julian knows he is not welcome (she has a point system. A POINTS system, but that's actually not a totally implausible situation). Of course since she never spells it out, you can't be sure that part of that dislike is race-based, but it probably doesn't help that Julian's Chinese (his mother is Chinese, his father is white) heritage 'ruins' her image of the perfect all-American blonde family. Like when Julian says '[s]omething about the way his aunt said 'half-Chinese' always made it sound vaguely like an insult-or not an insult exactly, but something that made him less than Preston, who at least in her view, wasn't half anything." (pg. 51) I had such a YES moment when I read that, I totally get what Julian's describing and I think many people from different cultural backgrounds may have a similar moment. Julian doesn't spend the entire book talking about the hardships of being a biracial kid, he mentions it, but he also talks about the joys of being biracial and how funny it can be to think about "how strange it was that he should be descended from two such different people, how weird and improbable that their DNA would end up mixed together in his own body." (pg.341). I would be remiss not to rave about Danny. I LOVE Danny, I want him to be my best friend. He is a mess, always hamming it up and yet his silly ways often help him to come up with the most outrageous-but-they-just-might-work stunts. But he can also be very practical (he's quite handy with computer basics such as sending emails in which Julian is hopelessly defunct). One of my favorite exchanges between Danny and Julian is below

"Am I good or what?' he [Danny] said with a broad smile.

'You have a real talent for lying. And you've ruined my reputation too. Congratulations!' [Julian]

'We all have our gifts,' Danny said humbly." (pg. 79) What a great kid.

Operation Redwood has many different branches that all lead back to the importance of speaking up when a wrong is being committed and the value of nature. Julian lives in San Francisco which can be a bit polluted, and he ends up going to see the Big Grove of redwood trees and is in awe of nature. I probably would be too. I don't live in the heart of the city, but I can relate to not spending much time relaxing and pondering nature, especially as we kids become older. I love that Julian has such a diverse group of friends, as the 21st century pushes on, we are going to see more diverse friendships, even now, people are rarely friends with only white people, and it's soo nice to see a book that reflects this. In fact this is the kind of contemporary middle grade I want to see more of, pretty please publishers? The ending certainly surprised me and it's realistic. Robin is resourceful, Danny is imaginative and Julian has the quiet strength that only unveils itself when push comes to shove. I could go on and on and on, but I'll stop. Ultimately this is a prime example of a book where it's the LITTLE THINGS that make it such a phenomenal read. The plot is not complex but it is revolutionary in that it so accurately depicts our world through the eyes of middle school students. A definite favorite of 2011 already.

Disclosure: Bought. One of the best purchases ever :D Printed on recycled paper for the win!

PS This is a tiny thing but it made me happen Julian is thinking about how his teacher taught them about the Miwok Indians (pg. 82). It's a brief sentence, blink and you miss, but it meant something to me that the author didn't just say Indians or even Native Americans. She specifies the tribe. Cool


  1. This looks all kinds of awesome. Yay recycled paper! Thanks for the review!

  2. I loved this book. It was so much fun and the green message is there but the author didn't go overboard with it

  3. @Maggie-Yes recycled paper for the win! You would really really like this book, I just know it.

    @Doret-It was so much fun to read and that was something I needed. The green message was never overbearing. Such a great book.


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