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!