Airborn (Matt Cruse #1)

by Kenneth Oppel

Conditional Recommendation: Matt, a young cabin boy, helps Kate, a passenger, discover a new species and together they endeavor to save their airship from murderous pirates.

Age: Young Adult
Series: Matt Cruse, Book 1
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (2004)
Genre: Adventure

Awards: 2004 Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature, 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book (ALA), 2005 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, 2004 Red Maple Award (OLA)

I am so excited to welcome you to the world of Airborn. It’s become one of my favorite books because of the classic nature of its adventure. It contains travel, new creatures, new places, pirates, danger, clever and courageous characters, daring heights, and a thrilling experience. This book has it all!

Summary from Kenneth Oppel

Set in an imaginary past where giant airships rule the skies, Airborn is the story of Matt Cruse, the fifteen-year-old cabin boy of the 900 foot luxury airship, Aurora. Hundreds of feet over the Pacifcus Ocean, Matt fearlessly performs a dramatic rescue to save an old man from his crippled hot-air balloon. Before he dies, the stranger tells Matt about the fantastic, impossible creatures he has seen flying through the clouds. Matt dismisses the story as the ravings of a dying man, but when a beautiful, bold girl arrives on the Aurora a year later, determined to prove the story is true, Matt finds himself caught up in her quest. But can he and Kate solve the mystery—before pirates, shipwreck and frightening predators end their voyage forever?

Memorable Characters

Matt Cruse is a responsible young man who takes his job seriously, consistently takes initiative to help out or learn more aboard ship, holds great respect for his captain, and is overall good-natured. A lesser thread in the book is Matt working through the death of his father. For so long, he has felt that he has been chasing an image of his father while aboard his airship and through the book we see him go through the process of coming to a place of rest and peace about the loss. His dealings with Kate create conflict and consternation because she is bold and completely different from him. Matt struggles with jealousy and a sense of unfairness when his promotion from cabin boy to sail maker is given away to the owner’s son. Through it all though, Matt seeks to do right—or at least make the best decision he can when people like Kate force him on a different course.

Kate de Vries is the leading lady of the story. Kate is accompanied by a ridiculous chaperone that she is constantly disobeying by pursuing “unwomanly” things such as discovering a new species. Kate is fearless, bold, determined, opinionated, and so single-minded that she fails to consider those around her and can walk all over people to get what she wants. In other words, she can be snooty. At one point, Kate drugs her chaperone with sleeping medication so that she can get off the ship to explore the island. Despite her flaws, she is also smart, helpful, resourceful, and courageous in the face of danger. Kate is passionate. If Matt were calm wind, then Kate would be thunder and lightning. They complement each other nicely and Kate adds a lot more interest, conflict, and adventure to the story.

Other notable and interesting characters that stand out in the book are the Aurora’s captain, Captain Walker, and the ship’s cook, Chef Vlad. Both are richly built, vibrant characters that are wonderful additions to the story. Captain Walker is the steady hand that guides Matt, and Chef Vlad is the comedy with his peculiarities and quick temper.

Well-Conceived Plot

There are two main plot threads running through the book and together they somehow make for a great adventure. In the first thread, Matt is drawn into helping Kate, a rich, driven, self-proclaimed scientist and zoologist, search an island for evidence of a new species. The second thread is the Aurora and its crew fighting pirates and recovering from shipwreck. Matt loves his airship. It was the same ship his father had worked on before he died and Matt has made it his home in the sky, a place where he feels closest to his father. Between his airship and Kate, Matt is never bored. Throw predators and pirates into the mix and the plot becomes very engaging. Besides the plot being engaging, it is also creative, well thought out and each point lends more meaning to the story by contributing to the underlying growth of Matt Cruse.  The reader will never find a boring spot in the book! When the pace slows and things seem calm, something is just about to happen to keep you hooked.

Satisfying Ending

I love how the author brings the plot to a satisfying close. There are no cliffhangers or an obvious set up for future books; instead, the story is wrapped up nicely, making the book able to stand on its own in the series. I can’t be any more specific than that lest I ruin the ending, so just know that it’s ending is good and happy.

Recommendation Note

There is a little bit of pirate violence and threat of death, but nothing extreme. There’s also some guy-girl drama and a headstrong female lead that is very independent, stubborn, and disobedient. As far as the adventure goes, I think all ages would enjoy this story and I would recommend it to all adventure lovers–except those who have a great fear of heights. Happy reading!

*Audiobook recommended!

Books I Recommend in the Series

Starclimber (#3)

Books Like This: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Where to Find this Book: Amazon* or your local library!
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