Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vivid Everglades Setting Makes For Harrowing (if Underdeveloped) Survival Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her mother working as a lunch lady in the school cafeteria, it's pretty much guaranteed that token scholarship student Sarah Emerson will never fit in at fancy-pants Glades Academy. Sarah signs up to go on a school science field trip to Everglades National Park hoping to change that. If she can make just one friend, things will be so much better. Unfortunately, her snooty classmates make it painfully obvious that they want nothing to do with someone like her. As fascinated as 13-year-old Sarah is with all the wonders of the Everglades, all she wants to do now is hop back on the bus and go home to Coconut Grove.

Then an unexpected opportunity arrives. Sarah meets gorgeous Andy Malone, a 15-year-old whose parents help manage part of the park. When he boasts that he can show her "more of the Everglades in an hour than you'll see on a dozen field trips, and without getting your feet wet" (25), Sarah decides to take the chance. But when the outing goes horribly awry, what began as an exciting day trip becomes a terrifying nightmare. Getting back to any kind of civilization means hiking through gator-filled swampland for at least two days. Andy claims to know his way back, but does he, really? It's bad enough that they're stranded in the wilds of the Everglades, Sarah doesn't want to be lost in it, too. With no choice but to trust Andy, Sarah follows him through a tangled wilderness maze, where every kind of danger—from blistering sunburns to gnawing hunger to giant snakes to territorial alligators—lurks. Making it home will be the hardest thing Sarah's ever done, not to mention the most impossible.

While I had issues with other parts of Lost in the River of Grass (available January 28, 2012) by Ginny Rorby, the one thing the author does extremely well is bring the Everglades to vivid and frightening life. Her descriptions of the snakes, the alligators, the wolves, even the mosquitoes, sent chills running up and down my spine. If only that kind of care had been extended to the characters, this would have been a much more satisfying book. Unfortunately, Sarah and Andy remain rather flat. Despite spending most of the story with just the two of them, I didn't feel any closer to them on Page 200 than I did on Page 22. Add in a somewhat dissatisfying ending, containing a surprise announcement (Sarah's black? Huh? Why are we not finding this out until Page 239? Actually, I'm still confused—is she black?), and I ended up feeling annoyed with the whole novel. A bummer since Rorby really kept me enthralled with her descriptions of the Everglades. I just wish the rest of the book was as well-developed as the setting.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little bit of Hoot and Scat by Carl Hiassen as well as a bit of Sharks & Boys by Kristen Tracy)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), mild sexual innuendo and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Lost in the River of Grass from the generous folks at Carolrhoda Lab. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds exciting. Too bad about the characters. I'll keep my eye out for this author. Maybe in the future, they'll iron out the characterization problems.

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