Release date: September 28, 2009
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 256 Pages
Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher (ARC)
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
At fifteen, a girl moves from a small town in Ohio to Panama while her father takes part in building the Panama Canal. This trip comes just at the right time for her. She yearns to see more of the world than her small mid-western town has to offer. She wants to meet new people. Visit exciting places. Panama with its lush rainforests and myriad of people is the perfect place for her desires to be fulfilled. Then she meets Frederico, a Spanish aristocrat who is working as a digger, one of the masses who toils daily in the heat and the dust and the danger of the canal. He embodies everything she's looking for: he's exotic, exciting, intelligent and pushes her beyond the limits her sequestered life has set for her.Review:
This summer I have been working through my shelves; uncovering a lot of books that have been hidden for years. I was beyond excited when I found Panama-- I had just returned from a trip to Panama myself a few weeks ago and couldn't wait to read this. While this one definitely had promise, the negatives outweighed the positives and I ended up not enjoying this one as much as I had hoped to.
Historical fiction has long been one of my favorite genres of YA because I love watching history come alive. I have been fascinated with the history of the Panama Canal ever since I visited it myself earlier this summer. In Shelby Wiatt's debut, the main character and her family move from Dayton, Ohio to Panama because her father has gotten a good job working on the canal. It was fascinating to read about the whole process of the canal work and to see it from the perspective of a young girl.
The weirdest part of this book for me, and what makes writing this review particularly challenging, is that we never learn the name of our narrator. I'm not sure why the author chose to do this, but it left me feeling very disconnected from her. Anyway, the main character is an only child who enjoys exploring and the outdoors. I was looking forward to seeing the canal work and surrounding Panama area from her eyes. Unfortunately, she soon becomes distracted by a young man and that becomes the sole focus of the plot.
I'm all for romance, especially in a historical setting, but this one was just strange. She meets Frederico one time and immediately becomes obsessed with him and once they start hanging out more often her obsession only grows. I didn't really see what was that great about him. He was smart and passionate about doing what was right, but it also seems like he only cared about himself and bragging about how smart he was. Also, he never asked the narrator anything about herself and seemed to only want her for her access to books and for sex.
I enjoyed reading about the work on the canal and seeing what life was like for all the different workers involved with the project, but the fact that the main character and romantic interest were so unlikable and the novel revolved more around her planning ways to sneak off and see him rather than on the fascinating world they were living in, I just ended up not enjoying this one as much as I had hoped to. I liked the author's writing style and would love to see what aspects of history she wrote about next, though.