Students know how much I enjoyed Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine. Back in 2008, before the books came out, I had heard about the mix of video and print and knew it was going to be a hit at our school. I feel like Patrick Carman took a risk with the format of Skeleton Creek and now people are copying the pioneer.
What I love to see is an author that continues to improve throughout their career. Trackers is proof that Carman still takes his craft seriously.
This is a caution to students, though – don’t sit down expecting ghosts to jump out at you. I did and it took me a couple of videos to realize that Trackers has a different tone. It’s the story of a high tech team of teenagers that get caught up in an Internet crime scheme that is much larger than they can handle individually. Patrick Carman’s research/previous knowledge concerning technology is appreciated and it comes out in realistic dialogue between characters (and great passwords for the videos – the majority are computing superstars like Babbage and The Woz).
Trackers takes on a neo-noir feel. Much like detective stories from the 30s and 40s, main character Adam doesn’t know who to trust (one character, Lazlo, shares a name with someone from Casablanca). His confusion grows when he’s distracted by a beautiful girl who quickly betrays him. The focus of the book is figuring out who is tracking the Trackers and what they can do to reverse the situation.
So, instead of being afraid that Joe Bush is going to stalk you from the dredge, you’re now more paranoid about going online. If you liked the movie Eagle Eye, Trackers should already be in your queue.
It’s told in an interrogation format, so the whole time you’re trying to figure out who has brought Adam in for questioning. This is book one and obviously so (well, besides it saying that on the cover), but in great Carman style he leaves you hanging at the end of the book.
Online supplemental materials are becoming a requirement for books, especially teen ones. Many have games associated with them, like P.J. Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis game (Haarsma is another digital pioneer, an author who also creates his own tech content). Patrick Carman understands technology, especially engaging technology, and trackersinterface.com offers the videos but also a very challenging Glyphmaster game. You try and organize the icons to spell a sentence. I found myself saying, “Just one more round.” My recommendation is to make it a Facebook game.
Librarians, you need Trackers. Kids will read it. But what was awesome is that he included a transcript of each video in the back of the book. This helps students who are reading in class. You can’t interrupt silent reading with a video of Finn crashing on a ramp at the local skateboarding hangout. Now students can get the info and watch the video later. Many of mine had to come in at lunch and hope the district Internet filter hadn’t blocked the Skeleton Creek site. This streamlining of the experience is one sign that the author is growing and improving.
And, like any book that involves Jeffrey Townsend, I stay up too late wanting to keep reading.
The alternative reality missions are releasing later today. While I read the book, I had my laptop next to me so I could look up any sites mentioned. I hope to see more from the missions. I can easily see the lines of fiction blurring under Patrick Carman’s expert use of media.