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Jungle Crossing

Jungle Crossing

4.6 3
by Sydney Salter

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Kat can think of dozens of good reasons not to go on a boring family vacation to hot, grungy Mexico. Number one: missing her friend Fiona's minicamp. If she's not there, she'll begin eighth grade as a social reject.

     Despite her reluctance, Kat ends up on a teen adventure tour where she meets Nando, a young Mayan guide


Kat can think of dozens of good reasons not to go on a boring family vacation to hot, grungy Mexico. Number one: missing her friend Fiona's minicamp. If she's not there, she'll begin eighth grade as a social reject.

     Despite her reluctance, Kat ends up on a teen adventure tour where she meets Nando, a young Mayan guide (who happens to be quite a cutie). As they travel to different Mayan ruins each day, Nando tells Kat his original legend of Muluc, a girl who lived in the time of the Ancient Maya. The dangerous, dramatic world in which Muluc lives is as full of rivalry, betrayal, and sacrifice as Kat's world at school. And as she makes new friends and discovers treasures in Mexico, Kat begins to wonder: Is she willing to keep sacrificing her self in exchange for popularity?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Thirteen-year-old Kat would rather be at her friend Fiona's mini-camp than on a plane to Mexico, but she is stuck with her family on this vacation trip. Soon after they arrive, Dad is stricken by an attack of Montezuma's revenge brought on by an intemperate stop at a roadside eatery. Mom and little sister Barb dig into enjoying their vacation, while Kat sends fake-happy postcards back to her friend, expresses her disdain for all things Mexican, and in general behaves like a stereotypical American tourist with an additional overlay of teenaged grumpiness. The combination does not make her particularly likeable. Nor do things get much better when she meets Nando, the tour guide's cousin who is not thrilled to be along for the ride either. "I am Mayan, son of kings," he says by way of introduction. Kat is in turn reluctant, then patronizing, and finally won over by the exotic setting. The story itself employs a fair amount of exoticization; caged princesses, tattooed warriors, sacrifices, and self-mutilating ball players populate the ersatz legend narrated by the sullen Nando. Actions and plot turns often seem unearned. There are flashes of realism in the banter between the sisters; in all Jungle Crossing is a little too heavy with the author's intent. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—Kat, 13, would much rather attend camp with her oh-so popular friends than traipse through the Mexican jungle. She lists all the reasons this family vacation is a bad idea. Number 18: "Being eaten by a shark." Preoccupied with her reputation back home, she whines and sulks her way through kayaking, hiking, swimming, and sightseeing, alienating herself from the other teens on the tour. One tour guide's story, however, of an ancient Maya girl destined to be queen, captures her attention and helps her to see herself and her situation differently. Kat's constant complaining slows down the first half of the novel. Her turnaround is admirable and realistic, but readers may have lost interest in her by this point. Disappointingly, the Maya story, taking up a good portion of the book, is not based on any actual stories or legends from the culture, and the storyteller leaves the girls to decide the ending for themselves.—Richelle Roth, Boone County Public Library, KY
Kirkus Reviews
Mexico and the Mayan people serve as metaphorical fodder to help a white American. Sullenly insecure Kat, 13, pouts on her Yucatan summer vacation. She's missing a popularity-determining slumber party, and she fears every stereotype about Mexico from bandits to food poisoning-and Dad's prompt case of the latter from a roadside stand gives cringeworthy textual validation to those worries. On a bus tour including ancient cities, Mayan teen Nando tells a long story. This inner tale about an elite Mayan girl, pre-Spanish conquest, awakens Kat's confidence, but the parallel is highly problematic. One explicit comparison, between Mayan religious human sacrifice and American social sacrifice of unpopular kids, approaches the obscene. It's as if Nando's culture-from a pyramid that tourists are forbidden to climb but Kat does anyway, to ancient religion, to a modern quincea-era-exists primarily to inspire Kat. When she finally (it's long overdue) releases her conviction that contemporary Mayans are dangerous, she replaces it with a shallow celebration of people who are poor but "so happy twirling around in their simple cotton dresses and bare feet." Skip. (author's note, glossary, online resources) (Fiction. 10-12)
From the Publisher

"Kat’s snarky comments about her family and fellow tourists . . .  are funny . . . This story-within-a-story of young Mulac’s capture and escape from slavery takes up a good part of the novel. It’s an effective device, adding depth to the plot and leading to the readers' understanding of how Kat’s growth and insights come about."--Booklist

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Salt Lake International Airport

Hi! I miss you guys and we haven’t even left yet.

Barb is already driving me nuts!

Remember to tell me everything that happens at mini-camp.


Love, Kat

P.S. Pickle wart.


I scanned the passengers for possible terrorists. Not the people with kids, or the blonde in the wedding veil, although it would make a great disguise. The guy in the seat across from us kept looking around the plane. Our eyes met. Wasn’t he the guy they double-checked at security? I’d keep my eyes on him, just in case.

The flight attendant closed the door by turning a thin handle that looked like it could come flying open in midair, sucking us all out of the plane. I gripped my armrest as I imagined myself falling to the ground, whirling, whirling, splat. Thirteen years of life over. Just like that. My friends probably wouldn’t even come to my funeral. They’d be too busy having a blast at Fiona’s mini-camp, doing each other’s nails, reading celebrity magazines, and talking about boys.

The engines made a loud grinding sound as the plane backed away from the gate. I looked out the window at the baggage carts racing across the tarmac, worried that my suitcase got left behind. Barb crossed her long, skinny legs and flipped through Lost Treasures of the Maya. The smell of her coconut sunscreen made me queasy. One little skin cancer warning from me, and she insists on wearing sunscreen on the plane. Maybe I shouldn’t have shown her pictures from Dad’s medical books. Nine is such an impressionable age.

"Do you think we’ll find hidden jewels? I could become a famous explorer and travel all over the world and I’d be rich and on TV!" She sighed, looking down at a photograph of an elaborate jade necklace.

"Whatever." I closed my eyes. The cinnamon bun in my stomach churned as the plane approached the runway. Listening to the engines whir like a rickety old fan, I stared at the stain on the headrest in front of me. If Fiona were here, she’d say that the neon orange color on the headrests was oh-so ’80s, in other words: old. Maybe technologically obsolete. The plane rolled onto the runway, vibrating like a wind-up toy as the engines sped up.

I held my breath and mentally said goodbye to Fiona and the rest of the gang, one by one. Then I added a special love thought to Zach B., even though he barely knows I’m alive.

"Why are you so sweaty?" Barb touched my forehead, then brushed back her dark curly bangs and touched her own forehead. "I’m not hot." She fanned me with her book. "Mexico is going to be way hotter. Dad said."

"Just leave me alone." I breathed in for five seconds. Cinnamon- tasting acid burned the back of my throat. Pressure built painfully in my ears. I should’ve brought gum; I might end up with a raging ear infection.

"You’re not scared, are you? I’m not. You weren’t scared when we flew to Grandma’s last time. Or the time we went to Disneyland either. Dad said airplanes are safer than cars. And—"

"I’m not afraid." I held my breath. I wasn’t scared when I was her age either. But then I started junior high. Now I knew the truth: the world was a dangerous place, full of hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, terrorist threats, bear attacks, contaminated food, bra sizes, mean PE teachers, cute boys who ignore you, and supposedly best friends who treat you like a tube of hairy lip-gloss.

The plane lifted into the air, making me feel woozy. I started breathing again, and I looked out the window as we climbed through the clouds, to make sure we didn’t hit another plane: thirty-five percent of airline accidents happen during takeoff. The plane tilted. We’re going down! I squeezed my eyes shut, but then the plane leveled. Guess we were just turning. I looked down through the clouds and watched as we passed over the soccer stadium. Wait! That house with the pool—were those small dots in the middle Fiona’s Five? Had mini-camp started early? Oh. Wait. That was the rec center.

Barb shook my shoulder. "Are you still in a fight with Mom?"

I glanced at my parents a couple of rows back. Mom had gotten really mad at me last night after I’d presented her with my list of "34 Reasons Not to Go to Mexico" conveniently written in the travel journal she’d given me. She went on and on about all the sacrifices they were making for this trip, but they wanted to give us the opportunity to see a different culture, and we needed to spend time together as a family, and she and Dad needed to relax, and time is passing so quickly. Blah. Blah. Blah. She just proved my point by hitting upon reasons 3, 6, and 29 through 32 of why we shouldn’t be taking this trip:

#3. You’ll save a ton of money if I stay home

#6. I’m too old for family vacations (especially if it means missing mini-camp!)

#29. Barb will drive me crazy

#30. Mom will drive me crazy

#31. Dad will drive me crazy

#32. Why not make it a second honeymoon to improve your marriage? (And leave me out of it!)

When I showed her my list (and elaborated maybe a little too much on reason number 30), Mom ran into her bathroom and cried. So what? Missing Fiona’s mini-camp was going to ruin eighth grade for me. But does Mom care? My head hurt when I thought about Fiona and everyone pigging out on pizza and root beer floats, swimming, watching tons of movies and staying up late, ranking all the guys in our class by looks, intelligence, and personality. And this year, Fiona’s mom had hired some students from the beauty school to come over and do makeovers. And as much as my thirteen-year-old self needed to stop looking ten (boring straight blondish hair, barely visible bosom, four feet eleven and three-quarters), I wasn’t just going to miss the makeover; I was going to miss all the little inside jokes that my friends would be talking about all year long. Like last year someone only had to say "pickle wart" and we’d all start cracking up. Inside joke.

But the biggest thing (and the thing that Mom totally didn’t understand) was that Fiona invited only five friends to minicamp. Being part of Fiona’s Five meant instant popularity, always having someone on your side, never eating lunch alone, never hoping, hoping, hoping for IMs or phone calls. I’d be on the right side of all the gossip, invited to every sleepover, new movie, or shopping trip to the mall. But now she was thinking about inviting someone else!

On the phone last night Fiona had said, "Sorry, Kitty Kat, but you should totally skip your oh-so boring family vacation and come to my mini-camp. I totally have to invite five people, you know. Maybe Lexi . . ." I hadn’t really listened to Fiona’s list of replacements, because I was too busy picturing myself alone at my locker, alone in the lunchroom, alone at the school dance, alone on the weekend . . . Alone. Shut out. Reason number 33: eighth grade will be totally ruined.

As the plane reached cruising altitude, my stomach finally settled down, so I tore open my bag of M&M’s and sorted them by color, eating all the yellow ones first, saving the green ones for last. Inside joke. Barb leaned over me, poking my leg with her sharp elbows, to look out at the clouds as the pilot announced a bit of turbulence.

"That cloud looks like a dragon," Barb said. "Oooh, and that one’s a whale!"

Looked like big fluffy deathtraps to me. The plane bumped up and down. I tightened my seat belt until it hurt, wishing I had a shoulder belt too. I looked around to see if anyone else looked nervous. The guy sitting across from us bent down suspiciously to rifle through a grimy old backpack. He handed Barb a bag of Mini Oreos.

"You like?" he asked.

"Yes!" Barb ripped open the package.

Probably poisoned. I gave her a warning look and nudged her arm. You’d think she’d pick up on the whole taking candy, cookies, whatever, from a stranger thing. I flipped open my journal and added one more item to my list: "#35. Dangerous strangers."

"Oops. Sorry." Barb slapped her hand across her mouth.

"Thank you for the cookies."

The man smiled and nodded as Barb bit into the probably poisoned Oreos. Well, I tried.

Meet the Author

SYDNEY SALTER's fascination with Mayan culture started when she was six years old and climbed down a steep, dimly lit stone staircase to the elaborately carved tomb of King Pacal who had once ruled Palenque. Visiting Mayan ruins, walking through fragrant Mexican market places, watching woman wash clothes in a river, and chasing lizards in the jungle ignited the spark in Sydney's imagination that led to writing Jungle Crossing. Sydney now lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and two dogs. She loves reading, writing, cooking, and traveling--especially to Mexico. She is also the author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters.

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Jungle Crossing 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
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
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Kat is very upset. Her family has decided to take a vacation to Mexico right during her best friend, Fiona's, mini-camp. This is social suicide in her junior high. How Kat wants to stay home - but that is not to be. She makes her family suffer with her comments and attitude. Once there, Kat and her little sister join a teen tour. She meets Nando, who is Mayan, and he tells them a story about a Mayan princess named Muluc. Muluc was abducted from her home and sent to Chichen Itza to be a slave. How she escaped sacrifice and slavery becomes Kat's and her sister's obsession. I love the lesson Kat learns about friends and how you can sacrifice not only your life but also your self for others. About how you have to be yourself and not do things just because someone tells you to. For example, Kat's hair is short even though a longer style might be better, just because Fiona told everyone to cut their hair in matching styles. The history of the Mayans and how some live today was fascinating. I liked the characters and their stories. I highly recommend JUNGLE CROSSING.
laurenbj More than 1 year ago
Kat's mom forces her to go on a family trip to the Yucatan, Mexico instead of allowing her to spend the summer with her friends. At first, Kat seemed a little spoiled to me. But I soon figured out that she was just scared of so many things. As the story progresses, and Kat opens up to the people and places around her, the story really takes off. I especially enjoyed Kat's field trips into the jungle as she gets acquainted with a local boy, and the Mayan folk tale woven throughout the narrative. This book would be an excellent adjunct in classrooms learning about native cultures. Students who read this will learn without realizing they're learning. I highly recommend it.