AGERANGE: Ages 15 to 18.
This occult mystery involving Quetzalcoatl, the feathered god, and ancient Mayan ruins is mixed in with elements of the Natalee Holloway case and the rebirth of the Phoenix. Eighteen-year-old Michelle and Anne are on spring break in Cancun, Mexico. Along with their desire to try out the latest in tropical drinks, sun themselves, and swim in the ocean, these two also intend to see some of the sights. As both are burdened with over-protective mothers, they have been provided with encyclopedias of advice, one of the most important principles being, “Never accept a ride from a stranger.” Of course they do exactly that, after meeting an older but handsome, personable, and sophisticated anthropologist named Ander in the bar. He offers to drive them to Chechen Itza early the next morning. Michelle, who is a wispy, otherworldly sort (specifically likened to a bird; yes, she can sing, hypnotically) forms a mystical attachment to Ander while touring the ruins, especially the spot where the beating hearts of virgin girls were offered to the gods, which creeps Anne out. In an effort to get both of them away from his influence, Anne begs a ride home from another set of strangers, but strangers who seem more like them, fellow partying spring breakers. Disaster ensues. Michelle is lost. Anne is bereft. However, the book ends happily, even movingly, due to the supernatural maneuverings of a feather dropped from a bird at Chechen Itza. The prose is beautiful and the mystery seductive, though the theme may be either, “Don’t take rides from strangers, especially during spring break” or, there are “ranges of mind beyond our present mind.” Reviewer: Myrna Marler
March 2008(Vol. 42, No.2)
Children's Literature - Kayla Smith
This novel depicts the lives of three best friendsAnne, Michelle, and Terriwho are seniors at Glendale High School in Illinois. Even though the end of the school year is approaching and graduation is near, these girls seek their last adventure together on a Spring Break trip to Cancun, Mexico. Anne, Michelle, and Terri plan this journey when they realize that the life they have known for eighteen years will soon change drastically as they leave their hometown, families, and friends to attend college. Upon arrival, the girls swim the day away, view their surroundings with fascination, become painfully sunburned, and relax as they try a few drinks at the hotel bar. However, Anne and Michelle meet a stranger, Ander, at the bar, who begins to chat with them, asking their names, where they live, plans for the trip, and questions about life in general. While the two talk with the stranger, they realize that he is vacationing in Cancun to visit Chichen Itza, a historic Mayan temple. When he asks them to join him the next day on a trip to the historical site, they are unsure of how to answer. Anne and Michelle recall their mothers' saying, "Never get into a car with a stranger," and they constantly question one another as they decide what to do. The next morning, they join Ander for an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Anne and Michelle tour the wonders of Chichen Itza with Ander as their guide, and while Anne has grown weary of Ander, Michelle is mesmerized by the historic beauty of the site and follows Ander around like a "lost puppy dog." As Michelle continues her conversation with Ander about the history of Chichen Itza, Anne searches for an escape route to leadthem back to their hotel. On her search, she encounters three guys who say they are from Illinois and claim to know Terri. They warn the girls about Ander and inform them that he is dangerous and manipulative. But this is only a trap to lure them into leaving with them and not Ander. After they conclude their trip at Chichen Itza, the boys take Anne and Michelle to a party where they are exposed to vulgarity and outlandish behaviors by others attending the event. When they finally manage to leave the party, Anne and Michelle intend to return to the hotel, but the guys have other plans for them, and trouble begins to surface as they experience life in an unknown place with corrupt people. As the narrator, Anne tells the life-changing events of this trip in a compelling way that entices the reader to continue reading without stopping. The mystery enhances the novel because it appeals to the senses and makes the trip seem both interesting and remarkable. An educator could use this book in a Social Studies lesson to help students learn about the historical aspects of Mexico while teaching them about the dangers of trusting strangers. Reviewer: Kayla Smith
VOYA - Lucy Schall
In this haunting page turner, a spring break in Canc·n, Mexico, becomes a nightmare of brutality, rape, and desertion. High school seniors Terri, Michelle, and Anne anticipate a fun-filled, coming-of-age adventure. The more streetwise Terri opts for booze, boys, and parties at the hotel, while nanve Anne and Michelle accept an invitation to tour the Mayan ruins from Ander, a middle-aged stranger. Michelle sees him as the father she never knew. Anne distrusts him and cuts their tour short by accepting a car ride for her and Michelle from "regular" suburban boys. The boys drug and rape Michelle and then leave her naked in the jungle. Anne escapes. Ten months later, with Ander's direction, searchers find Michelle living with natives. Trauma has taken her memory and voice, but a guilt-ridden Anne finally finds a way to break through the silence. The two girls' often lyrical accounts build a novel as tough and frightening as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999/VOYA December 1999). A feather motif links the horrific possibilities of modern coming-of-age partying to the ancient Mayan myths that lured virgins, both eager and drugged, to kill themselves for Quetzalcoatl. The parents agreeing to send their daughters into a "party" situation without knowledge of a foreign country's language or the support of reliable guides raises the question, "Has human judgment evolved with technology?" With its reflections of current headlines, this novel, although probably having more appeal for girls, is an important read for teens and their parents to share. Reviewer: Lucy Schall
Terri, Anne, and Michelle, childhood friends and seniors at Glendale High, are off to Cancun for spring break. Armed with sunscreen, bikinis, and their mothers' admonitions in their heads, they plan on having the time of their lives. The only things on their minds are boys, tans, and sky blue drinks. Kasischke places the girls between the raucous beach party of modern Cancun and the deep green jungle where ancient mysteries still live. Like tourists themselves, readers follow the girls as they experience both worlds. Kasischke writes a story we see too often in the headlines, using characters developed through her artful dialogue and strong imagery. Appropriate for the more mature adolescent literature reader, Feathered teaches an important lesson about danger and the disguises it wears. Reviewer: Jane Kenyon
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up- Three friends take a trip to Cancun for spring break in this novel about the dangers of trusting strangers. Told in the alternating voices of Michelle, the victim of assault and abduction, and her friend Anne, the story reads with the poetic lyricism of Francesca Lia Block and the thrills of teen-scream novels such as Lois Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer (S & S, 1998). When Michelle, Anne, and Terri land at the Hotel del Sol, they have different ideas of what they want from their vacation. Terri, a gorgeous blonde, disappears early in the novel to enjoy the benefits of the sun, sand, and drinking. Meanwhile, Michelle longs to take in Mexico's ancient temples and cultural history. Anne decides to follow her to the Mayan ruins. While there, the girls break one of the major rules their parents warned them about: don't take rides from strangers. The boys seemed like normal, American Midwestern teenagers but, when they drug Michelle's water, Anne quickly realizes that they are in a life-threatening situation. The story builds slowly, but readers who continue through to the end will find that the pace increases. An excellent choice for fans of the author's Boy Heaven (HarperCollins, 2006) and other teen thrillers.-Marie C. Hansen, New York Public Library
A spring break in Cancun goes horribly wrong. Anne and Michelle flee the teen binge scene and head into the jungle to explore Mayan ruins with a male stranger as their guide. Michelle's worries evaporate as she walks the ancient, sacrificial grounds, entranced by images of the god Quetzalcoatl (the Plumed Serpent), eviscerated hearts and dying virgins. The following morning, Michelle is missing and Anne stumbles out of the jungle, bloody and alone. Kasischke spreads her poetic wings, using lyrical language and lucid imagery to create a transcendent novel. Readers will be enchanted by remarkable poetic conceits and narrative devices. Feathers, scales, blues and greens appear as talismans, signaling readers to look for meaning in the novel's periphery. Bright flashes of horror, exaltation and folklore draw teens into the thick Mexican jungle, and into Anne and Michelle's story. (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
Oh, he is not a human. He is a god. His feathers rustle around her as he takes her by the shoulders—but his skin is also the skin of a snake. Cool, daggered, iridescent. When the knife is raised, she isn't afraid. She does not close her eyes. After the first plunge into her chest, she feels nothing more. Not fear. Not sadness. After the next, he reaches in, and what he pulls out is the most luminous blue-green bird she has ever seen. It is newborn, but it has always been alive, and he lets it fly from his hand into the sky. She watches it crashing into the blue, singing beautiful notes, a few of its green feathers falling from its wings, settling quietly around her. Feathered. Copyright © by Laura Kasischke. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.