"This is a ripping good adventure yarn . . . [T]he perfect remedy for any summer that's been disappointingly short on thrills."
From School Library Journal:
Eleven-year-old Tom Hammond lives with his widowed mother in a windblown old house chained to the top of a gigantic rock. One night, unable to sleep, he heads down to the stream that borders their property, where he has left a heavy piece of refrigerator packing foam. What starts out as aimless drifting down quiet water turns deadly when Tom's foam slab feeds into the rougher mountain water and he is pulled under a rock, ending up in an underwater cavern. The secrets he discovers while attempting to find his way out of the mountain caves are surprising, yet seamlessly executed. Wilson's rich imagination and his quirky characters are a true delight. Tom's feisty mother will not believe that her son has drowned despite the evidence to the contrary, and her run-ins with various townspeople are jewels in themselves. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep both seasoned and reluctant readers turning the pages. Think Mark Twain with a contemporary and utterly captivating twist.
Fleeing the possibility of a new stepfather, 11-year-old Tom Hammond washes downriver into a series of caves that contain a few dead bodies; Reg, a man who has been trapped inside for three years; mysterious carvings; and no apparent way out. Outside, on their mountaintop, his grieving mother, threatened by treasure hunters, continues to search for him. Tom's adventures have several literary ancestors, including Tom and Huck in the cave, and the inventive Swiss Family Robinson, but this is solidly set in the present, standing on its own with well-crafted suspense and fascinating survival detail. Underlying the story is the possibility that explorers from ancient civilizations arrived in North America long before Columbus, a theory certain to interest middle-grade readers. They will also relish the physicality of the journey: underwater swims, tight passages, and rock climbing as Tom, Reg, and a found dog search for an exit. A crotchety neighbor and a group of local thugs add to the tension of this appealing and easy-to-booktalk package.
From The Horn Book Magazine:
Wilson sets the scene vividly, from Tom's home to the labyrinth of tunnels and caverns under the mountain, and the central characters' emotional lives develop both naturally and affectingly. [Readers] will appreciate both the fast-paced adventure and Tom's determination to make the impossible journey back home.
From Kirkus Reviews:
Eleven-year-old Tom Hammond is not happy with his mother's choice of a possible future fiance; Mr. Veatch is not only a teacher, but he's pretty gross. One night, Tom just wants to get away from the house and his mother for awhile, but he ends up stuck in an underground cave with a dead man and an injured dog. Using the dead man's headlamp, Tom looks for a way out and ends up finding history, personal and national. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, his mother, is certain her son is alive. She tries to get help, but the only people willing to "help" are unscrupulous treasure seekers. Tom not only escapes the caves with the dog and a new friend, he also helps to save his mother from Mr. Veatch and the treasure hunters. Wilson's debut is a literate, sometimes humorous page-turner in the classic tradition. Well-read adventure lovers are in for a treat looking for echoes of The Odyssey and Tom Sawyer.This is a strong choice for every type of library.