The Climbers by Keith Gray

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The Climbers by Keith Gray

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Really engaging read that looks at rivalry and friendship, and what can go really, badly wrong when competitiveness swings into spitefulness, and the bid to be the best goes one step too far.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 120 Date: August 2021
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781129999

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Sully is the best tree climber in the village. He has what's known amongst the kids as 'reach'. But what happens when a new kid shows up in town? A new kid, called Nottingham, who clambers up some of the hardest trees with ease? Suddenly Sully is worried that his status is being threatened, and not only that, that his chance to name the final, unnamed big tree in the park by being the first to conquer it, might be snatched from his hands. How can Sully stop Nottingham? And will it cost him his best friend, or maybe even all of his friends, to do so?

Although this is only a short book, don't be deceived because like many titles from Barrington Stokes, the writing packs a punch, and the book is crammed full of very real, and readable, situations. This story touches on some dark moments, including a pretty terrible accident, some very spiteful behaviour, and some mentions about child abuse. But for all the darker moments, it remains an ultimately uplifting read.

You find yourself really disliking Sully at times in the book, and I really liked that the author doesn't shy away from how destructive it can be for someone to be so single-minded and determined to succeed. You start to wonder if Sully will really sacrifice his friendships, just to maintain his status in the village, and it's only when Sully starts to realise that perhaps that status is worthless, if nobody actually likes you as a person, that you sense that he might finally manage a happy ending to his story. It shows how an obsession can grow, and overwhelm someone, as well as looking at friendships, and what supporting someone can really mean.

I really enjoyed all the tree-climbing talk - you can really picture the different trees they climb through the story, and I enjoyed how it felt like a really skillful thing to be able to do. I've never been much good at climbing, but both my children are always eager to clamber up any tree that seems like it might have some good footholds! I also liked the portrayal of the darker side of someone's personality. It was good to see that a main character could be really horrible, and yet still find their way out of that spiral of spitefulness back into a much better, and more genuine friendship. It also showed how destructive competitiveness, when taken too far, can be. And since it's Sully behaving in this way, we have some insight into where it's coming from, and why he feels the way he does which, of course, allows us to sympathise with him, even whilst we're hating his behaviour.

As with the other Barrington Stoke books, it's printed on a slightly cream coloured paper, with a beautiful clear, well-spaced font, to help readers who are dyslexic. I really love the range of titles they produce as a publishing house, and that even in a short story they don't shy away from big topics. They produce these great stories that are readable, engaging, and don't feel like remedial reading books but just really good stories. The only thing I wasn't really sure about with this particular story is how old the protagonists are. For me, Sully and Nottingham sounded, when they spoke, like younger boys. So when it's mentioned that they are fifteen I was very surprised! I think the writing is well done, so that it's pitched to a younger reading age of around 8, but with a story to appeal to children who are 12 and older, and I probably would have believed that the characters were maybe 12 or 13. But for me, as the mum of an almost 15 year old teenager, the way they all spoke didn't quite sit right somehow. However, this is me nit-picking, and it doesn't change the fact that it's an enjoyable, well-written story!

Barrington Stoke have lots of really great books - you might also enjoy reading Unboxed by Non Pratt or The Liar's Handbook by Keren David.

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Buy The Climbers by Keith Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Climbers by Keith Gray at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy The Climbers by Keith Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Climbers by Keith Gray at


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