Review Detail

Off to the Amazon!
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
After her adventures in Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation, Charlie is hiding out in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, where she is renting a house, pretending to be 18, and keeping her head low. Since she is the only person to have Albert Einstein's Pandora code, her brother Gabriel and his CIA partner Milana want to turn her over to the government. When she is found by Esmerelda Castle and asked to solve a code carved on the bottom of a giant tortoise, presumably by Charles Darwin, Charlie isn't happy. However, she has noticed strangers in town whom she suspects are after her. She knows that Esmerelda came in a small plane, and asks to be taken to the research station. She has already solved the riddle, and be they know it, the two are on a path to get other clues left by Darwin. Esmerelda has not told Charlie the whole truth, and Charlie is savvy enough to have figured this out, so after going to a church, finding a clue, and climbing to the top of the church spire to get another clue, Charlie escapes. She has hidden a mountain bike nearby for a quick getaway, but is soon chased by two cars. Luckily, one of them is driven by Gabriel. He and Milana join Charlie as she travels down the Amazon, looking for the next clue. One of their stops is an ecotourist hotel run by indigenous residents, and run by Segundo. He advises that the next step of their journey, to the fabled lost city of Paititi, is impossibly hard. There are several groups of evildoers hot on their trail, including the Russian Ivan who is to bring Charlie back uninjured to his government, Esmerelda and her treasure hunting brothers, and several others whom they meet on the way who think they can overcome Charlie and get the treasure themselves. Still, the three head off down the Amazon to where it is closer to a wetlands to a river. What is the treasure that Darwin found? Actual treasure? A link between hominids and humans? Or something more shocking and treacherous?
Good Points

Charlie Thorne is the most serious of the Gibbs' series, but still has moments of fun. There are deft turns of phrase that made me chuckle, and Charlie getting the best of everyone she encounters is always good. But her challenges are real, and traveling across the Amazon is a daunting proposition. Still, Charlie is able to blackmail her brother in a humorous but really intimidating way, refer to something as the world's largest Chia Pet, use her freshly manicured nails to save the day.

The research that went into this is astonishing. From information about Darwin and his travels, to different types of codes, to the flora and fauna of Ecuador and the Amazon, the details about what it is like to take the journey Charlie does are fascinating. There are even small things, like Esmerelda's genetic predisposition to not feel pain when injured, that prove very important down the line in very clever ways. I knew from Scott Westerveld's Peeps not to pee in the water in the Amazon, but I found myself debating the merits of wearing a wet suit if I ever find myself cruising down that waterway. Would the barrier against the mud and bugs be more important than the heat, as well as the fact I could never go to the bathroom? Also, I need to remember to bring a canister in which I can save bullet ants.

Unlike Horowitz's Alex Rider, Charlie is not necessarily a reluctant hero. She does not like the situation in which she finds herself, but is willing to use her skills to actively pursue adventure in ways that Alex is not. We get hints that she is going to investigate clues that Cleopatra may have left behind, and is on her way to Egypt as the book ends. She also has her own funding and must rely on her own resources, whereas Alex has the support of MI5. I almost wish that, like Alex, Charlie were 14, and that she weren't so freakishly smart. It would be easier for me students to put themselves in Charlie's shoes and imagine that they are the ones having the adventures.

For pulse-pounding, non-stop adventure, this is a fantastic book, and it is also very instructional. If I am ever on a boat hurtling down the Amazon and I am attacked by people in a plane throwing dynamite, I know exactly what I need to do. I just need to pack my emergency bag, find an unlimited source of funding, and continue the conversation with one of my friends about how we can weaponize quilting tools to use on our own Mrs. Pollifax type adventures. Charlie Thorne has provided a lot of fertilizer, much of it bat guano, for my imagination!
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