December 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm #833
As the arts of parkour and freerunning become ever more popular, it is inevitable that people will start writing about it…first come the newspaper articles, then the documentaries, and eventually, the books. These will be both non-fiction books, probably instructional in nature, and fiction books, where characters practice parkour and the art of movement becomes part of the plot. For some people, these types of books are the first or only exposure to our art from an insider’s perspective. Also, books are sometimes seen as more permanent or legitimate than other mediums, so it’s important that when our art makes it to the book phase, the writers get it right.
If you’ve read a book about parkour and would like to write a review on it, add to the discussion here, so that others who like parkour and reading can find good things to read next. Also, find that book on Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s or Good Reads’ website and write an appropriately-rated review there, so that readers considering that book for their shelves know whether the book they’re getting into is an accurate representation of its subject matter. Base your review on not only the literary merits of the book (characters, plot, setting, description, etc.), but also accuracy. Are there a bunch of teenagers recklessly endangering themselves and others for the thrill of the jump with little training or safety precautions and absolutely no consequences? Or do the characters work up to the daring stuff, referencing the history and philosophy of parkour? Are parkour and freerunning differentiated? Are the movements described in the book realistic, named accurately, described well so that someone can picture what is happening without necessarily having a parkour or freerunning background?
And if you happen to be a writer and a practitioner of our art, please, by all means, write a good book about what we do and publish it! If we want our art to be respected by the mainstream population, we need to put out as much quality writing as we can in as many forms of media possible. If we want people to understand what we do before judging it, we need to help them along.December 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm #834
Parkour Book Review: “Two Foot Punch” by Anita Daher
Two Foot Punch by Anita Daher is a teen/young adult novel about parkour. The main character is a 16-year-old traceuse named Nikki who moves to a new city along with her older brother Derek, who is also a traceur, after their parents die in a tragic house fire. Derek blames himself for the death of his parents and in his guilt becomes absorbed in drinking, drugs, and gang activity. Nikki has her own feelings of grief and anger to deal with, but instead leans heavily on parkour to fill the void in her life. Nikki becomes friends with a gymnast named Rain and shows her the ropes of parkour, which Rain picks up quickly. Rain and Nikki spend their summer days exploring the city with parkour, but one day they happen to witness some gang violence in progress, and this lands them in the middle of a criminal plot that puts Nikki and the people she cares about in great danger. Nikki’s parkour skills and ability to think quickly will be put to the test as she tries to save her family and new friends, and in the middle of it all, she is trying desperately to repair her relationship with her ever-more-distant brother Derek.
The author, Anita Daher, actually pretty much got it right. She worked with members of the group Winnipeg Parkour, which is the real team that practices in the city the book is set in, to get a basic understanding of the philosophy behind parkour and accurate description of movements. She even had a traceur read a rough draft for parkour content. Some of the movements strike me as a tad unrealistic, but then again, the characters in the book also practice like all day every day and I don’t. I feel like the author accurately captures the spirit of parkour, if you will, and uses it as a driving force behind the main character’s actions. There are some flips and freerunning moves described in the book as being part of parkour, but the author acknowledges in the notes that she’s aware of the definition debate that is ongoing in the parkour community and tried to use language that would be accepted by most people, being aware that you can’t please everyone. Overall, she focused on the meaning behind parkour–movement, overcoming obstacles, seeing the world around you differently–and in this aspect she succeeded in being true to our discipline.
I liked the book. It was a quick read, not only because it was fast-paced and created a decent amount of suspense, but also because it was only 167 pages and the print was pretty big. There was a decent amount of character development for being such a short book, although I don’t feel like anyone is particularly complex. I felt like some of the scrapes the characters got into/out of were a tad cliché, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. Sometimes I found myself stopping and trying to picture exactly what the parkour movements were, which I don’t think I’d do if I didn’t practice parkour myself, and I feel like it took me out of the story a little bit, but it wasn’t terrible.
One of the things that I particularly liked about the book was that the main character was a traceuse. Although I think that the book would have still worked had all the main characters been male (and I think that a guy reading the book would enjoy it just as much as a girl reading it), I like the empowerment of the traceuse that is portrayed in the book. Gender issues aren’t addressed in the book directly, but I feel by not addressing them and purposely having a female being portrayed doing parkour, it helps to dispel the myth/stereotype that parkour is only for guys who are daredevils.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read, portrayed parkour pretty accurately, and would serve as a good introduction to what parkour is through narrative rather than direct instruction for someone who had never heard of it before.December 16, 2013 at 12:06 am #835
Parkour book review: “Hacking Timbuktu” by Stephen Davies
Two England-based teens use their hacking and parkour skills to solve an ancient riddle and discover a hidden treasure while keeping away from other, dangerous treasure-seekers. Danny is a 16-year-old hacker living on his own in London who scrapes by financially with freelance IT work and money from absentee parents. When he’s not hacking, he’s out training parkour with his best friend Omar and their crew of traceurs. An ancient clue to a hidden treasure is stumbled upon by a museum worker while scanning ancient texts for digital preservation, and stolen by his assistant Moktar, who happens to be a member of an ancient organization called the Knights of Akonio Dolo. This group is dedicated to recovering two million mithquals of gold bars stolen from a temple in Timbuktu in the 14th century by one of their ancestors. Moktar deletes the scanned image of the manuscript containing the clue after killing his coworker who discovered it, but doesn’t bring the original manuscript to the rest of the group. He has gone rogue and is determined to find the gold himself. Other members of this group forcefully request that Danny use his hacking skills to help them recover the deleted file that will lead them to the treasure, but Danny refuses to help them. Instead, he hacks on his own. When they learn that he has the clue, an international race is on, and Danny must use all of his skills to stay ahead of the game.
The author did his research here, and it shows. The terms are all used correctly and described well, and the main character relates how he’s practiced these things a thousand times in a risk-free environment before doing them somewhere dangerous. The author doesn’t describe every movement of every chase scene, but takes to just naming them in succession at times, which may make it more difficult for non-practitioners to follow if they are trying to picture each thing. Most of the time, though, the parkour scenes are described adequately for practitioners and non-practitioners alike, and they are not too far out of the realistic range of skills for a seasoned traceur, which the main character claims to be. There are still quite a few things in the book that push the boundaries of safety and reality, but if you take it with a grain of salt, the same way you take action movies (Kids, don’t try this at home!), it is an accurate representation of what parkour can be. Anyone interested in parkour might be inspired to go out and try it after reading this book, but they’d still get the impression that they have to work at it for a while before being able to do what the kids in the book do.
Overall, this story is fun and cool, though there are some darker parts. If you know anything about either parkour or hacking you will find that neither are grossly misrepresented, though the realism of each is adjusted for a more dramatic story. Both Danny and Omar are a little too good at the things they do to be entirely believable, but if you suspend your disbelief, you get an action-packed adventure story where greed is not rewarded, friendship is a thing to be valued, and anything is possible with determination. Some people may find that there isn’t a heck of a lot of character development in this book, and there are hints at mental/emotional issues that are never fully resolved, but if you can look past that, you’ll still really enjoy this book.December 16, 2013 at 12:57 am #836
Parkour book review: “Momentum” by Saci Lloyd
Hunter is a privileged Citizen who is drawn to the Outsiders by their freedom of movement, an athletic pursuit known as parkour, which they use to efficiently traverse the city. This being London, they call it free running, an attempt to translate the French word for the art of movement, which means something different on this side of the pond (motion as a creative expression rather than efficient transport). Whatever you call it, it’s unheard of for a Citizen to do it, to sympathize with the poor and rebellious Outsider cause, to go against the harsh rule of the Kossacks (military police used to brutally enforce the government’s hard laws). When Hunter meets Uma and witnesses Kossack cruelty firsthand, he is unable to go back to his gilded cage of upper-crust society. Uma has grown up disliking and distrusting all Citizens, but she has no choice but to rely on Hunter for help during a surprise Kossack raid. Together they must keep safe a set of codes that is the key to uncovering all Outsider identities, which would cripple the movement beyond repair if the Kossacks get a hold of it. This adventure takes them all over London, uncovering clues to lead to the next safe keeper, with the military police in hot pursuit, danger around every corner, and unreliable loyalties everywhere.
In this world, free running is more utilitarian than fun like it is to us today. The Outsiders use it to escape government surveillance and pursuit on a regular basis, so it seems they don’t really have time to bother with names of techniques or distinctions about flipping. They just do what they have to in order to survive, and they own it as the one freedom that the Citizens can’t take away from them. Like most action-adventure novels, it does a lot of building-jumping and death-defying stunts, but they’re all in the name of survival, so…I guess it’s ok to stretch reality a bit. It’s all described well enough that you get a good picture of what physically is happening, whether you have a free running and/or parkour background or you don’t.
This was a fast-paced and enjoyable read, with a conclusion that wrapped up nicely but was open-ended enough to hint at a sequel, which I do look forward to reading when and if it comes out. It tackles modern-day issues like the world energy crisis, poverty, government surveillance, and the level of technology that runs rampant in our lives. However, it presents many sides to these issues, and doesn’t try to beat the reader over the head with any one theme, although it is pretty obvious who the bad guys are and what they stand for.December 16, 2013 at 1:13 am #837
Parkour book review: “Outlaw” by Stephen Davies
The children of Britain’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, fifteen-year-old Jake, who loves technology and adventure, and thirteen-year-old Kas, a budding social activist, are abducted and spend time in the Sahara desert with Yakuuba Sor, who some call a terrorist but others consider a modern-day Robin Hood. One of Jake’s hobbies is running up walls. He never says “parkour” or “freerunning” or anything like that, and he doesn’t seem to do much of any other technique, but just took it upon himself to learn to walk up walls, and became incredibly good at it. Jake’s knowledge of technology and wall-running, and also some sheer dumb luck, will help him and his sister escape their captors and return safely to their parents at the embassy, which has launched a nation-wide manhunt for the people who captured them.
This isn’t really a “parkour novel” like the others on here, but it does include wall-runs, albeit to the exclusion of all other parkour techniques, and it was written by an author who clearly has an interest in the subject (Stephen Davies wrote “Hacking Timbuktu”). Any time Jake wall-runs, it’s not some unbelievable height, and the mechanics of it are explained in the beginning so readers get a sense of what is going on and how it’s actually possible.
Like Stephen Davies’ other novel (Hacking Timbuktu), “Outlaw” is an adventure story about a young man from London who winds up globe-trotting, wall-running, getting into trouble, and uncovering a nefarious plot. It is still action-packed and filled with great and memorable characters, but it is not merely a formulaic rehash of other work. It is a unique glimpse into the culture of African nation Burkina Faso as viewed through a naive but smart and well-intentioned Londoner. The characters learn, grow, and mature a little better in this novel than his previous, which is a nice addition to the plot’s twists and turns and all of the action-adventure. I highly recommend this book because it is entertaining, well-written, and informative. The author’s notes explain how a lot of the great spy-tech is not just science fiction, which is really quite interesting.December 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm #838
Parkour book review: “What We Saw At Night” by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Three teenagers with the rare skin disease Xeroderma Pigmentosum (abbreviated XP) take up the art of parkour. XP is a genetic condition in which the skin cannot repair damage done by ultraviolet radiation. This means that they can never actually see the sun, or else their skin will literally burn and boil and eventually they’ll get cancer. Also, most people with this disease die before they’re 20, although if extremely careful and with the right treatments, some live to be 40. This is apparently a real thing, and is quite scary-sounding. Anyway, they can only come out at night, and take to wandering the streets together most of the time causing normal teenage trouble. They take up the art of parkour in order to “really live” because they’re dying anyway. One night, while doing parkour in a partially constructed condo complex, they witness something strange which may actually be a murder. Allie, the main character, insists on going to the police, but nobody believes her, and this only puts the killer on the alert. Allie tries to unravel the mystery herself, and in doing so puts herself in grave danger.
The author clearly did a bit of reading about parkour, because the history of it, its philosophy, and movements are all pretty well described in this book without sounding too much like a wikipedia article. The scenes with parkour in them are described, on average, moderately well (but there was enough confusion in certain sequences to trip me up as a practitioner, so I don’t know how regular readers would fare). It’s funny, they’re all either really clear, or very muddled, which is a little more frustrating to me, personally, than it would be if they were all just average clarity of description. Although the characters progress from beginner stuff to unrealistic 20-foot leaps between buildings in a matter of weeks, the author tries at least to cover it up by saying that they did nothing but train all day every day for almost a whole summer to get to that level. The author does mention some of the growing pains of practicing, like constant soreness and bruises, but they don’t really impact the characters at all. There were some consequences of doing things that were too big too soon (Allie breaks her arm jumping from the third story of a parking garage to the cement ground), but the pain and healing time were glossed over, and there was a sort of training montage of her trying to strengthen it back up after it is healed. I understand these from a story perspective (healing a broken arm is boring), and I appreciate that the author nodded her head to realism by throwing in montages of the stuff that takes a lot of time and effort in real life.
Some of the terminology and concepts are a bit off, and I’m wondering if it’s just a midwest thing (that’s where the story takes place). People say “tracing” instead of “doing parkour”, “running”, “jamming”, or “training”. They misuse the term “bouldering” to mean “buildering” (one is free-climbing rocks/boulders without gear, the other is climbing buildings with or without gear), they regularly use grip gloves and ropes in their “parkour traces”. Also, they use the term “tribe” instead of “team”, “crew”, “group”, or other term for a parkour group. Some of this could be just midwest lingo that we’re not used to here in New England, but some of it is kind of wrong and actually misleading. The three teens do get stopped by a police officer for doing parkour, particularly at night, by they get let off with a warning because one of the characters is the daughter of the police chief.
The parkour in this book is done pretty well, and I can forgive most of the errors and inaccuracies because they make for a more interesting story. One thing that I didn’t like about it is that these kids seem to have little regard for their safety while talking about how safe they’re being, and talking about how they’re doing parkour to feel alive, but they wouldn’t really have gotten into it if they weren’t dying anyway. I mean, I understand why people with terminal conditions would be adrenaline junkies and have a “to-hell-with-it” kind of attitude, but the way it’s talked about in this book makes it sound like parkour is ONLY appropriate for these types of people. Despite all this, the story is gripping and fast-paced, and despite the several unrealistic instances of police completely ignoring evidence that would convict the killer, it is an entertaining read. It didn’t end on a cliff-hanger, but I was sort of expecting a little more of a resolution than what it gave. I guess that’s because it is the first one in a series, and I didn’t know that going in. I’m planning on reading the second one when it comes out, and I still think this is a fairly good parkour book, despite all of my criticisms of it.
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