When the president of the United States is kidnapped by suburban extremists, it’s up to two 12-year-old girls to foil their plans in this humorous middle-grade novel.
Jade Rivera and Katerina “KK” Kaminsky have been friends almost since they were born in the same Phoenix hospital. Both have immigrant parents; Jade’s are from China and Mexico, and KK’s from Russia. On a camping trip to nearby Superstition Mountain, a federally protected wilderness, the two girls hike alone toward some ruins; Jade notices an ancient saguaro cactus that’s been illegally cut down, revealing a mine entrance. Could it be the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Mine, said to contain a fortune in gold? As the girls investigate, they happen upon the bound and gagged U.S. president, who had been giving a speech nearby. He’s been taken prisoner by members of a group called the Suburbanites for Expansion, whose ransom demand is to “develop this wilderness into a suburban paradise.” Now prisoners themselves, the girls formulate a plan: Jade will pretend to be a Native American who speaks little English, and KK will pretend to translate for her. The bumbling yet still dangerous SFE members know nothing about local plants and animals, but the girls draw on a trove of facts and advice that their well-informed grandmothers gave them and put them to good use. In her debut, Robinson writes a hilariously comic adventure that incorporates solid information about Arizona’s real-life Superstition Mountain, its ecology and Native American history, and wilderness survival. Her young heroines are resourceful, spirited, and clever, and their attention to their grandmothers’ knowledge and wisdom pays off in several important ways, helping them find nonpoisonous food to eat and treat a reptile bite. A warm sense of family connection and an appreciation of immigrants’ diverse cultures underlie the story. The villains are cartoonishly exaggerated, but they also reference real issues, such as the fact that once-protected wilderness areas are increasingly threatened by developers. Debut illustrator David’s black-and-white drawings enliven the story, capturing the girls’ resolve and the villains’ absurdity. (A free study guide is available via email.)
A real winner featuring comic adventures with a serious undercurrent.