Growing up, there was a great focus on reluctant readers in my household. My mom, a prof, did research on boys and reading. She wondered why some boys were so far behind their grade level in reading that they were nearly illiterate by the time they were supposed to be entering middle school. The result? The boys weren’t achieving–weren’t reading–because they found the books boring. Throw in some Captain Underpants or some books about sharks and those boys could be lured in.
Orca Soundings are books aimed at readers just a bit older than the boys my mom researched. Billed as a series of short, high-interest books for reluctant readers, the books feature solidly formed characters in dramatic scenarios. The books were short but fast-paced.
I read two of the Orca Soundings books to check them out. Titan Clash was about a boy who is the star of the high school basketball team. His mother has recently been in a car accident. When he finds out that his stern, straight-laced father has been arrested for embezzling his best friend, he can’t believe it. Facts pile up until he finds that to save himself and his father’s reputation, he needs to make the basketball shot of his life. It was part of the Orca Sports group.
The second book, Pain & Wastings, was about an Aboriginal teen who is given a choice to ride along in an ambulance for four shifts or going to juvie for breaking into a closed amusement park. He lives in a group home, but the story is more concentrated on his mother, a drug-addicted prostitute who died a gruesome death. This book is Canadian, and I found myself imagining the lower-income part of my own hometown for the majority of the book–the title is a play on the name of ‘the worst corner of the city,’ Main and Hastings. I can’t help but wonder if it was set in my hometown, since that’s one of the worst corners in my city, or at least close…
Pain & Wastings conveyed an ill-represented demographic that I can imagine being very relatable for kids in similar circumstances. The character is not lamenting the fact that he’s in a group home–it just is, and it’s better than some of the foster homes he describes. As someone who grew up in a loving, affluent, two-parent family, I found it difficult to relate to the character, even a bit uncomfortable. I’m not part of the target demographic, however. Many (if not most) of the YA fiction I’ve read has the characters either coming from comfortable home lives, like me, or on the rare occasion, put into a group home or foster care and hating every second, spending the time trying to escape the unfortunate circumstances they’ve been forced into. I liked the refreshing perspective of this character if only because I know that there are people–friends of friends, or people I went to high school with–who are in situations like this. It’s a chance for that underrepresented group to have a face in the stories.
The books are short–I read both of them in about an hour. That makes sense, as they’re meant for reluctant readers who will likely not want to read anything long. The text is large and in a readable font. The covers are also very attractive and the rear blurbs suck in the reader without conveying much of the plot.
I hadn’t heard of Orca Soundings before they were assigned for class readings. Even after picking them up at the library, I wasn’t too enthralled. But after reading them, I have to say that I am very impressed. Orca Books has done a great job putting together a collection of books that will have reluctant readers glued to the pages.