Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

Tags: middle grade, eco-adventure, environmentalism


Dumped with his snively aunt and uncle while his widowed mother travels to China, 12-year-old Julian Carter-Li’s life changes the day he intercepts an angry email meant for his CEO uncle. In the email, a girl named Robin Elder accuses Sibley Carter of destroying precious redwood trees just to get more money. As Julian and Robin write back and forth, they realize that it might be up to them to save the redwoods. But what can their odd group of friends do against money-seeking adults?


This is, simply put, the best middle-grade novel I have read in a long time. A winsome cast of varied characters, excellent writing, and an urgent but not proselytistic theme make this a book I would be an evangelist for.

S. Terrell French writes like J. K. Rowling—and no, I am not exaggerating when I make that comparison. The third-person narration from Julian’s point of view is wonderfully engaging and moving. Compared to his friends, Julian is really quiet, but it’s his dedication to the environmental cause in the face of his introversion that make him endearing. He is an unusual yet much-desired protagonist: quietly observant but not in an annoyingly self-pitying way, old enough to act on his own, young enough to have recognizable naivetes and limitations, and half-Asian. MG and YA literature needs more characters like him.

The other characters in the book are, of course, fantastic also. Julian’s best friend, Danny Lopez, is a laugh-out-loud force of his own, and certainly reminds me of my crazily outgoing and selfless middle school classmates. Robin’s a bit more difficult to define, but in the end both she and her friend Ariel are realistic, poised at the edges of the pages, ready to jump out and start chattering away right next to you. And it says a lot that the adults in OPERATION REDWOOD can be believable also, no matter how horrible some of them might be.

I also would like to point out how much I appreciated the diverse characters. Julian’s mixed race is a solid part of his identity without overwhelming the story. Indeed, if you fixate on his race in the story, then you have company in his nasty aunt Daphne, who is one of those characters that makes you really really hate them but be amazed that the author could write such a hateful character so well at the same time.

There’s nothing bad I have to say about this novel. It’s an easy must-read for all ages, both for its rarity of being an excellent middle-grade novel and its inspirational environmentalist themes. Find it and give it a try!

Similar Authors
Carl Hiaasen
J. K. Rowling
Mary Amato (Invisible Lines)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - Look, an Asian guy! This cover is cute, exciting, and relevant. I love it.

Amulet Books / May 1, 2009 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.95

Sent by author for review. Thanks so much, S.!

Check back tomorrow for an interview with the lovely author!


  1. Oh wow, I NEED to read this book then! I sense a trip to my bookstore coming up (I totally trust you so if you say a book is the best MG book you've read in awhile, it's worth spending money on) :)

    I love the story, helping save the environment, plus diverse cast of characters and Asian kid on cover! Sounds like a win. Wow, I really want this book now.

    Looking forward to the interview!

  2. Operation Redwood sounds very good! It is going on my wishlist :) Thanks for the great review. Will be back to check out the interview.

  3. My debut novel for middle grade readers Dead Frog on the Porch focuses on environmental issues as well (in a non didactic way). Sisters Cyd and Jane are propelled into an international plot involving evil scientists and giant, genetically stretched frogs. Will the twins will this hilarious race to save the frog kingdom?

  4. Sounds like a really cute, fun and educational read -- and those are some of the best! Glad you enjoyed it so much, and thanks for introducing the rest of us to it!

  5. We definitely need to read this book. It is perfect for everyone. It is funny, good and very amazing. Hope that everyone could read it.


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