Thirteen-year-old Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s summer vacation to hot, boring Mexico. She’ll miss mini-camp and lose her spot as part of Fiona’s Five (reason number 1) thereby completing ruining her chance at popularity and eighth grade in general (reason 33). Her family will drive her crazy (reasons 29 through 31). And don’t think that’s just whining because Kat has tons of other, totally logical, reasons on her list including falling prey to bandits, the risk of flash flooding, heat stroke, dangerous strangers, and lung damaging jet fuel (reasons 8, 20, 24, 35 and 36) in Jungle Crossing (2009) by Sydney Salter.
Despite Kat’s helpful list, her parents and nine year old sister Barb couldn’t be happier with their Mexican adventure. Barb adjusts effortlessly to their new surroundings making friends with everyone she meets.
But no one seems to like Kat–not even Nando, the Mayan tour guide. Meanwhile, between scary eels, mean tour guides (reasons 39 and 40), and all of her other reasons, Kat is miserable. Even listening to Nando’s exciting legend about Muluc, an ancient Mayan girl facing danger, betrayal and untold sacrifice, can barely hold Kat’s interest.
Except, being a captive audience on the tour bus with Barb, Kat finds herself paying closer attention to Muluc’s story. Muluc didn’t have to worry about missing mini-camp or clinging to her tenuous spot in Fiona’s Five. The more Kat learns about Mexico and the ancient Mayans, the more she begins to wonder about her own life and what really matters. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?
Jungle Crossing is a lot of fun. Kat is a younger narrator than a lot of the usual suspects in young adult novels, which makes for a slightly different (but equally enjoyable) perspective. Salter’s descriptions of Mexico were also amazing lending a travelogue feel to the book and transporting readers to Kat’s wonderful destinations. To her credit, Salter also tries to point out the inequities between the Mexico found by rich tourists and the harsher reality for locals like Nando.
Interspersed throughout Kat’s story readers will find Muluc’s story as “told” by Nando. Muluc’s story provides a slice of life from Ancient Maya and, eventually, becomes a benchmark for Kat as she tries to work out her own priorities in modern day Mexico.
Salter blends the two narratives together seamlessly so that, by the end of Jungle Crossing, moving between the two girl’s stories feels completely natural. Her writing of Kat’s narration is also pitch perfect moving from the voice of a whiny (possible) brat to that of a braver, happier, and fairly more enlightened girl by the end of the story.
Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison