Growing up isn't easy. This axiom is true no matter what time period of history one lives in.
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Allan Richard Shickman's debut novel, Zan Gah, is a coming-of-age novel for a young boy in prehistoric times. The novel begins with him going on a hunt for a lion, the youngest of his tribe and the only remaining child of his parents. His twin brother had disappeared months before.
When the first signs of manhood is conferred upon him, Zan sets out to search for his missing twin Dael. During his journey, he'll face tribal enemies, wary allies, hazardous terrain, slavery, starvation, and predators. He's also faced with choices about how to survive and how to do what is honorable in the face of great risk.
The story is written as a historical narrative, using the literary device of fact, though all the elements are fictional. Zan is given credit as the inventor of the sling and Shickman provides the oral history that he claims survived through the centuries to sing of his deed.
While a pre-historic setting may tempt some to think of the story as simple, Shickman instead manages to introduce a great deal of complexity into the choices that Zan must make. The story is quick-moving in the tradition of adventure stories, but there are difficult moral situations that Zan finds himself in. He's also forced to question some of the conventions that he was raised with and to challenge those of his tribe and the neighboring tribes.
There were some things that might have been anachronistic. Certainly it made me want to go look things up. For example, when did people start recording time in years? If this takes place pre-history, then are there such things as years yet? Or was that simply a shorthand for the sake of the reader's understanding?
It also might have been helpful to have had an appendix with some of the historical context of the novel. The story itself is very good about providing only the information which the characters themselves would have. However, as a reader, I wanted a context beyond what was available to the characters.
Shickman, a former teacher and professor, is to be praised for his willingness to include a rich vocabulary in the text. He shuns the grade-level vocabulary lists and instead uses those words that are important to the text of the story. He uses words that are challenging and provides a context for the readers to figure them out.
Shickman's Website says he came up with the idea for this story while sharing a cave deep underground with hundreds of bats. It certainly might explain why he was able to so authentically and powerfully describe the settings found within the book. With any luck, he'll do some more spelunking and give us more of these adventuresome novels rich in language and history.
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