Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Jungle Full of Adventure

Jungle Crossing
Can you imagine your family taking you to the Yucatan for the summer?! Now what if that trip meant you would miss the one opportunity you had to go to the mini-camp the most popular girl in your class invited you too... Would you still want to go? In Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter, a summer in Mexico is the last thing Kat wants to do for the summer.

Kat doesn't want to go to Mexico and eat probably contaminated food and possibly get kidnapped by bandits and most likely end up lost in the jungle forever. But she doesn't have much of a choice when her father takes the whole family back to the place he traveled to when he was young. Everything from her annoying little sister Barbara to the rude Mayan tour guide Nando makes Kat angry. She is missing Fiona's mini-camp back home which is the key to not being a social pariah for the entire 8th grade. When her mother signs her and Barbara up for a kids-only tour, Kat finds herself just where she expects to be when she returns home- as the loser of the group everyone makes fun of.

On the days-long tour, Nando clearly expresses his annoyance with all tourists and all Americans. Kat doesn't understand why he is so grumpy all the time. Barbara, in all her childish innocence, coaxes Nando into telling a story about the ancient Mayans he comes from. He begins to tell the story of a Mayan princess who was captured and enslaved by another group of Mayans. During this princess's capture, she learns a lot about herself and her culture. While Nando tells Barb and Kat the story, kat learns a lot about Nando, his culture, his life, and most importantly, herself. It seems that the trip she most vehemently protested may have been the most pivotal point in her short life.

I am not going to lie, at first I struggled with this book. Kat is such a cranky brat that I almost didn't want to go on. All she does is gripe and complain about this amazing trip her family took her on. She thinks all the food is poisoned, everyone is out to get her, is horribly mean to her little sister, and writes these absurd postcards to the mean girls back home begging them to remember her. I hated Kat at first. But luckily, the story of the Mayan princess started, which really caught my attention. It paralleled much of Kat's story about a privileged girl who didn't appreciated how good she had it. The moral is there, I think Salter just made Kat too unlikable at first. She was wretched! 

This is a middle reader story that appropriately handles the gruesome Mayan culture for the age group. Some of the nastier bits with the sacrifices are handled well and although still remaining true to the culture, don't overdo it. The transformation in Kat is a good one, but I can see some kids being just as annoyed with her as I was and not wanting to go on with the story. Perhaps Salter's portrayal of Kat was just a little too heavy handed and might turn the reader off before giving her a chance at redemption. I guess you will just have to see for yourself!

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