Example research essay topic: A Killing Frost – 427 words

John Marsden’s A Killing Frost passes all three of
my tests (and please forgive my purposefully hazy
focus on “good writing”, but I must have some
quirks as a book reviewer!). Sensory detail
pervades this novel of war, told from the point of
view of a teenager who, with her friends, becomes
a partisan against an intractable enemy that has
invaded her homeland. The homeland in question is
Australia, and we are treated to a gorgeous
anthology of landscapes and how they affect the
characters, from the deep Outback to farmlands, to
shorelands to paddocks, to hills. The Australian
terrain is a character all in itself: sometimes an
enemy, as the characters struggle through the
bush, but also a friend that hides the troop of
heroes from numerous enemy patrols. Throughout the
book, I could see the characters’ breaths in the
frosty morning, feel the chill of the autumn wind,
hear the terrifying sound of an approaching enemy
helicopter, and feel the exhaustion of someone
struggling in choppy water. By “honest portrayal
of human activity”, I mean writing about a niche
group of humans so convincingly that a reader or
audience member comes away with the feeling that
they have shared an insider’s look into the lives
of a group of people.

Think about Saving Private
Ryan: many thousands of us who were never there
now know a little bit of what it was like to land
at Omaha Beach on D-Day, to experience the pain,
fear, confusion, and panic of war. And Mr. Marsden
has done something like this. Over and over again,
I found myself reacting physiologically when the
characters dodged patrols, planned attacks, and
tried to survive. I felt sorry for them when they
were captured, felt thrilled at their successes.
This is hard to do — and I appreciate it fully.
And the “good writin’?” Well, Mr. Marsden paints
great characters: Ellie, the inwardly frightened
but outwardly heroic female narrator; Kevin, the
burnt-out former POW; Robyn, the surprisingly
hardy quiet one; Fi, the beautiful and
surprisingly equally resilient city girl; Homer,
the ever-ready planner; and Lee, the depressive
and jumpy rover, always on the go.

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This book
doesn’t just contain well-written characters that
you care about, but also situations and storylines
that grab you and don’t let go. One of the
best-written episodes, in which the teenage
characters manage to greatly hinder an enemy-held
harbor, kept me glued to the book for three solid
hours. I hardly noticed that I had ingested over a
100 pages of fiction — I was that engrossed.



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