Title: The Kite Rider
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Narrator: Full Cast; David Baker, Cynthia Bishop (narrator), Daniel Bostick, Bob Brophy, Bruce Coville, Ted Davenport, Galen Druke, Ann Marie Grathwol, Todd Hobin, Mimi K. Mead, Bill Molesky, Gerard Moses, Lauren Synger, Thea Van Der Ven
ISBN: 9781932076387 (book on CD), 0780066238753 (hardcover)
Pages: 272 pages
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 6.75 hours
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2001.

The hurdle-a big square hatch cover woven out of palm leaves-was being carried along the deck by seven or eight sailors. The rope was already attached to it by a harness of four cords shackled to each of the four corners. Also bound to this giant kite was a man.
A cloth had been wrapped around his head, but now, as he twisted this way and that, struggling to break free, the cloth slipped down and Haoyou caught a clear glimpse of his face.
“Father!” […]
Haoyou flung himself at the man-a brute as thick-set and sturdy as a post, with a round, neckless head. “You sent him up there! You killed him!” Haoyou shouted, pummeling the flat, unyielding stomach, bruising his fists on Di Chou’s leather belt.
Di Chou took hold of Haoyou by the ear, and the shining flesh of his cheeks twitched with menace as he smiled down at the boy.(7-12)

Obedient, twelve-year-old Haoyou’s life is turned upside down when his father is killed. His father’s killer offers to marry Haoyou’s beautiful mother, but between Haoyou and Mipeng, the family’s medium, they set into motion events that prevent that from happening. As a result, Haoyou finds himself recruited to perform in the traveling circus of the Great Miao as a kite rider, soaring high over the grief that his father’s death has caused. But can Haoyou rise above his own guilt, his uncle’s greed and the teachings of his youth that weigh him down?

Readers will soar with Haoyou when listening to the full cast production of The Kite Rider. Not to be confused by The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or Linda Sue Park’s The Kite Fighters, the story starts with a punch and keeps the excitement high as Haoyou encounters greedy uncles, abusive suitors, and the “honorable” Kublai Khan. Some of the situations seem meant for a slightly older audience, which is probably why I’m finding copies of this book in children’s and young adult collections.

The audio is well voiced, although whoever voices Haoyou is sometimes just a tad over enthusiastic with his lines. His excitable voice works for most of the time though, as he’s either yelling, crying, or exclaiming over some event, probably as a result of his naivety. Narrator Cynthia Bishop does a good job at bridging the gaps between the different characters, and the landscape is described in breath-taking detail and poetic language.

[…] rising out of the roofless building, the fragments of countless kites rode on the incandescent updraft, trailing tails of fire, lurching and plunging, climbing and ditching: a flying menagerie of flame, a fleeting festival of catastrophe. (46)

Mipeng showcases some feminist traits that are well beyond the thirteenth-century Chinese culture that the book is set in. While she provides a more modern perspective and contrasts the rest of the characters’ attitudes with her opinions, it’s a little jarring to hear and see her disregard for everyone else’s teachings and beliefs, which was what she too was taught.

Overall the story has a lot of suspense as, just like the tail of a kite, McCaughrean leaves plot points dangling until the very end, waiting to be caught up again and tied up into a neat little bow. While the package might look a little too neat, I think readers will be well pleased with the results and remember the story for quite some time.