The Barnes & Noble Review
New York Times bestselling novelist Isabel Allende tries her hand at writing for younger audiences in a thrill-seeking novel set in the Amazon rainforest.
After Alexander Cold's mother is stricken with cancer, his parents send the boy to stay with his gruff grandmother, Kate. A writer for International Geographic, Kate whisks Alex off to the Amazon, where she's to research a story about "a gigantic, possibly humanoid creature" that's celebrated in local mythology. With a group of explorers and doctors -- including the young Nadia -- they journey down the mystical Amazon, battling anacondas and other hazards. But when Alex and Nadia get recruited for a mission to save the People of the Mist, the visit brings the two face-to-face with a colony of Beasts, legendary creatures whose discovery has long been a goal for courageous adventurers.
Filled with the sights and sounds of a dangerous trip down the Amazon, City of the Beasts is the first in a trilogy. Allende's work will leave her fans anxious to learn more about threatened cultures and efforts to save the rainforest, in a fantasy that's both extraordinary and awe-inspiring.
A 15-year-old accompanies his eccentric grandmother on a writing assignment in South America to search for a legendary nine-foot-tall "Beast." PW said the "action and outcome seem cleverly crafted to deliver the moral, but many readers will find the author's formula successful with its environmentalist theme, a pinch of the grotesque and a larger dose of magic." Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Allende's foray into young adult literature brings a heady dose of her personal brand of magical realism. A marvelous thread of cultural and environmental themes authenticates this National Geographic-like photoessay about the depths of the Amazon. Leaving his mother's grave illness behind, Alexander finds himself a key member of an international search party tracing a path to locate the Beast of the jungle. Grandmother Kate is suspect right from the outset, when she neither picks up her grandson at the airport nor nurtures him in any manner. She is a crusty caricature of herself, the ultra-feminist photographer. Dr. Torres presents an instructive lesson about recognizing evil. Teen friend, Nadia, is a wonderful partner for Alexander, a.k.a Jaguar. They lead this page-turner with proper judgment, fear, and correct impressions about the real motives of the adults and the natives. Scary adventures involve deaths, kidnapping, and the overpowering noxious odor of the nearby Beast, as the team wrestles with the People of the Mist and nature. Anthropological details are engrossing, the talented use of Spanish vocabulary does not need a glossary, and the mysterious taboos of the Amazon and the force of good and evil all contribute to this exciting fantastical survival tale. An outstanding leisure read, this title can also be recommended to complement social studies units on South America and environmental issues. PLB
Nancy Zachary <%ISBN%>006050918X
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-In her first novel for younger readers (HarperCollins, 2002), Isabel Allende creates an authentic South American world, this time in the Amazon rain forest, and combines it with mythical realms of the imagination. California teen Alexander Cold embarks with his rather stern and prickly grandmother Kate, a writer, on a trek to locate a legendary Yeti-like Beast of the Amazon. An egotistical anthropologist, two photographers, and a guide with a teenage daughter fill out the official party. They are joined by a rich Amazon adventurer with villainous intentions and a doctor whose job supposedly is to carry protective vaccines to any native population. The story develops jungle and expedition details as well as cultural and economic conflicts with a mysterious People of the Mist very well. But the travels of the young people alone into the territory of the People as well as that of the giant Beasts are full of mysticism and fantastic happenings. Just when one twist of the plot seems to be reaching a resolution, two or three more arise, creating layer upon layer of incredible events. Narrator Blair Brown creates subtle voices and distinguishing accents for all the characters. Her rendering of unfamiliar native words is excellent, and this feature will be helpful to listeners who might come to a frustrated full stop at seeing the words in print. Her convincing reading is a real asset. A short appropriate musical passage plays at the beginning and ending of each side of the tape. The lengthy, complex plot may limit the audiobook's appeal. The story is noteworthy for its portrayal of the region and its problems, but unusual in its reliance on the supernatural and mystical. It will appeal to teens with an interest in the rain forest and a taste for the fantastic.-Jane P. Fenn, Corning-Painted Post West High School, Painted Post NY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
A moody American teen finds himself up the Amazon without a paddle in this aimlessly meandering and cliché-ridden fantasy. Alex's mother's struggle with cancer has forced him into the care of his grandmother, a writer for International Geographic magazine, which has mounted an expedition into the heart of the rainforest to observe the strange monsters known only as the Beasts. Predictably enough, the expedition team consists of a variety of types, including a beautiful doctor, a dashing guide and his mystical daughter Nadia, an egotistical anthropologist, a sinister Indian aide, and a number of expendable supernumeraries. After the requisite agonizing trip up the longest river in the world, Alex and Nadia are finally ushered by an ancient shaman into the Eye of the World. There they encounter the People of the Mist, a-surprise, surprise-pristine indigenous civilization, who have evolved a symbiotic relationship with their gods, the Beasts. The Beasts, it turns out, are gigantic sloths-leftovers from some prehistoric era that have by dint of their exceptionally slow metabolism and consequently long lives developed some intelligence and even rudimentary language. Alex and Nadia are rechristened for their totem animals (Jaguar and Eagle) and go on perilous spirit quests. The jacket blurb boasts that the novel is "teeming with magical realism"; leaving aside the question of whether magical realism can actually teem, this story, Allende's (Portrait in Sepia, 2001, etc.) first for children, does anything but. There are some fantastic touches, but most of what passes for magical realism seems introduced only for narrative convenience (such as Alex's sudden ability to transcend linguisticbarriers by "listening with his heart"). Other potentially fantastic elements are drearily reduced by pseudo-scientific explanation to the realm of the mundane (such as the true nature of the Beasts). The narrative as a whole suffers from extraordinarily labored language: " 'Remember whom you're speaking to, you little twerp,' the writer calmly interrupted, seizing him firmly by the shirt and paralyzing him with the glare of her fearsome blue eyes." Whether this is the fault of the original writing or the translation from the Spanish is immaterial; this flaw, combined with the general pointlessness of the plot, makes this offering-all 416 pages of it-an excruciating experience. (Fiction. 10+)
Read an Excerpt
Alexander Cold awakened at dawn, startled by a nightmare. He had been dreaming that an enormous black bird had crashed against the window with a clatter of shattered glass, flown into the house, and carried off his mother. In the dream, he watched helplessly as the gigantic vulture clasped Lisa Cold's clothing in its yellow claws, flew out the same broken window, and disappeared into a sky heavy with dark clouds. What had awakened him was the noise from the storm: wind lashing the trees, rain on the rooftop, and thunder.
He turned on the light with the sensation of being adrift in a boat, and pushed closer to the bulk of the large dog sleeping beside him. He pictured the roaring Pacific Ocean a few blocks from his house, spilling in furious waves against the cliffs. He lay listening to the storm and thinking about the black bird and about his mother, waiting for the pounding in his chest to die down. He was still tangled in the images of his bad dream.
Alexander looked at the clock: six-thirty, time to get up. Outside, it was beginning to get light. He decided that this was going to be a terrible day, one of those days when it's best to stay in bed because everything is going to turn out bad. There had been a lot of days like that since his mother got sick; sometimes the air in the house felt heavy, like being at the bottom of the sea. On those days, the only relief was to escape, to run along the beach with Poncho until he was out of breath. But it had been raining and raining for more than a week -- a real deluge -- and on top of that, Poncho had been bitten by a deer and didn't want to move. Alex was convinced that he had the dumbestdog in history, the only eighty-pound Labrador ever bitten by a deer. In the four years of his life, Poncho had been attacked by raccoons, the neighbor's cat, and now a deer -- not counting the times he had been sprayed by the skunks and they'd had to bathe him in tomato juice to get rid of the smell. Alex got out of bed without disturbing Poncho and got dressed, shivering; the heat came on at six, but it hadn't yet warmed his room, the one at the end of the hall.
At breakfast Alex was not in the mood to applaud his father's efforts at making pancakes. John Cold was not exactly a good cook; the only thing he knew how to do was pancakes, and they always turned out like rubber-tire tortillas. His children didn't want to hurt his feelings, so they pretended to eat them, but anytime he wasn't looking, they spit them out into the garbage pail. They had tried in vain to train Poncho to eat them: the dog was stupid, but not that stupid.
"When's Momma going to get better?" Nicole asked, trying to spear a rubbery pancake with her fork.
"Shut up, Nicole!" Alex replied, tired of hearing his younger sister ask the same question several times a week.
"Momma's going to die," Andrea added.
"Liar! She's not going to die!" shrieked Nicole.
"You two are just kids. You don't know what you're talking about!" Alex exclaimed.
"Here, girls. Quiet now. Momma is going to get better," John interrupted, without much conviction.
Alex was angry with his father, his sisters, Poncho, life in general -- even with his mother for getting sick. He rushed out of the kitchen, ready to leave without breakfast, but he tripped over the dog in the hallway and sprawled flat.
"Get out of my way, you stupid dog!" he yelled, and Poncho, delighted, gave him a loud slobbery kiss that left Alex's glasses spattered with saliva.
Yes, it was definitely one of those really bad days. Minutes later, his father discovered he had a flat tire on the van, and Alex had to help change it. They lost precious minutes and the three children were late getting to class. In the haste of leaving, Alex forgot his math homework. That did nothing to help his relationship with his teacher, whom Alex considered to be a pathetic little worm whose goal was to make his life miserable. As the last straw, he had also left his flute, and that afternoon he had orchestra practice; he was the soloist and couldn't miss the rehearsal.
The flute was the reason Alex had to leave during lunch to go back to the house. The storm had blown over but the sea was still rough and he couldn't take the short way along the beach road because the waves were crashing over the lip of the cliff and flooding the street. He took the long way, because he had only forty minutes.
For the last few weeks, ever since his mother got sick, a woman had come to clean, but that morning she had called to say that because of the storm she wouldn't be there. It didn't matter, she wasn't much help and the house was always dirty anyway. Even from outside, you could see the signs; it was as if the whole place was sad. The air of neglect began with the garden and spread through every room of the house, to the farthest corners.
Alex could feel his family coming apart. His sister Andrea, who had always been different from the other girls, was now more Andrea than ever; she was always dressing in costumes, and she wandered lost for hours in her fantasy world, where she imagined witches lurking in the mirrors and aliens swimming in her soup. She was too old for that. At twelve, Alex thought, she should be interested in boys, or piercing her ears. As for Nicole, the youngest in the family, she was collecting a zoo full of animals ...City of the Beasts (Large Print). Copyright © by Isabel Allende. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.