________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover Ramp Rats: A Graphic Guide Adventure.

Liam O’Donnell. Illustrated by Mike Deas.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
64 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-880-1.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Dana Eagles-Daley.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

Ramp Rats is a graphic novel which uses engaging illustrations, believable dialogue and realistic situations to convey a fun and interesting story. The novel tells the story of “Bounce” and his best friend, Pema, who live just outside of Vancouver and who love to skateboard. As the plot unfolds, the friends train for a skate competition, learn to do some great skate tricks, and learn to deal with complicated family issues and bullies.

      Illustrator Mike Deas uses a simple colour palate, movement and varying perspectives to capture the tone and vibrancy of the story. Deas chose relatively few colours to illustrate O’Donnell’s story, presenting a look which is slick and which draws in the reader. Backgrounds are neutral with few details, drawing the attention to the foreground where Bounce and his friends try out new skating tricks or where they battle bullies. The perspective often changes, ranging from overhead views which reveal the landscape over which Bounce and his friends will skate, to close-ups which show emotions and personalities of the characters. The technique is effective as the view always seems fresh. Keeping with the skateboarding plot line of the novel is the sense of movement in the images. In this graphic novel, Deas draws characters which usually have elongated body types, allowing the smallest change in limb placement or body position to translate into body language and a sense of movement through the surrounding environment. This artistic approach is particularly useful during the action sequences.

      O’Donnell fills his novel with interesting and realistic dialogue to keep the pace of the story moving along.

“You skaters are nothing but troublemakers.”

“A Hell-hog calling us troublemakers. Can you believe it?”

“What’s a Hell-hog?”

“The Hillside Hell-hogs — the most dangerous biker gang around.”

“The Hell-hogs are into all sorts of illegal stuff and they never get caught.”

“Dad says the bikers pay money to the cops to leave them alone.”

“And they treat skaters like crooks. It ain’t right.”

“Now that you got your board back, let’s skate.”

“Nice 50-50 grind!”

“You have got to show me how to do that!”

“We don’t need a skate park to shred. Step up and I’ll show you.”


      The dialogue also contains numerous colloquialisms and skater terms with which readers can identify and which are able to keep readers’ interest. Bounce refers to the “rentacops,” and the book is filled with skater lingo. The use of specific skater terms and the descriptions of skater tricks are an essential part of this novel. O’Donnell and Deas incorporate many detailed, step-by-step directions on how to do various skater tricks. Skater fans, young athletes, as well as struggling readers, will enjoy the illustrated nonfiction parts of this book.

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      Young readers will be able to identify with the situations and characters in this novel. Bounce lives with his father and stepmother, Ashley. Although Bounce thinks Ashley is “not too bad,” he likes to manipulate the arrangement to irritate his father. At the beginning of the story, Bounce complains that Ashley’s son is coming to visit for the summer. Marcus is older than Bounce and lives in Vancouver. Bounce’s father thinks that the reason Marcus never wants to come to visit is that Marcus thinks he is too sophisticated for their small town of Hillside. When Marcus arrives, he tries to annoy Bounce, but, after a humorous episode, they discover they are both skaters and come to bond through their shared passion. Another situation with which readers will be able to identify is the way in which Bounce is bullied by Crunch, another skater at the skatepark. Crunch has been bullying Bounce for years, and Bounce has come to accept it. However, by the end of the novel, Bounce has developed more confidence in himself as a result of encouragement from his family and friends. The brotherly relationship which has developed between Bounce and Marcus helps him, as does the resolution to the problem Bounce’s father had with the Hell Hogs biker gang. The resolution to Bounce’s father’s problem is perhaps a little dramatic and far-fetched. However, the way in which Bounce resolves his own bully issue is believable and serves as a lesson for young readers, bully and victim alike.

      Ramp Rats is a fun graphic novel with a unique storyline which incorporates many attractive features for many types of readers. The characters are believable and well-developed, while the situations are so common that most readers will be able to identify with many of them. There is excitement when Bounce practices and competes in the skating competition, and there is suspense and drama when the Hell Hog bikers cause problems for Bounce and for his father. Combined with a lot of useful information about skating, as well as helpful guidance about bullying, Ramp Rats is a worthwhile read for young readers.


Dana Eagles-Daley is a teacher in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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