I hope all you Virtually Readers had a nice Christmas! We did–it’s really nice to be at home with our family. Anyway, technically the Season of rereading lasts all of December because otherwise we’d never do enough.
I remember my dad reading City of the Beasts to us when I was about 8 years old. I have lots of nostalgic memories of it, but I was interested to see how I’d feel more than a decade later as an adult (note, I don’t really consider myself an adult, but legally I suppose).
City of the Beasts is about Alex, who is 15. His mother needs some kind of cancer treatment in another state so his parents send him to his grandmother Kate, who is a journalist. She takes him with her on a trip to the Amazon, where a group is searching for mysterious humanoid Beast spotted in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Alex isn’t particularly keen but isn’t really given an option. On the trip is Nadia Santos, about 13 and the daughter of their guide. She’s grown up in the jungle(though her mother is Canadian) and has a totally different worldview to him. The trip up the river has a lot of mishaps, and Alex is forced to overcome his boundaries and team up with Nadia while opening his heart to things he might never have believed possible.
One thing I noticed in this book is how dated it is. It was published in 2001 or 2002, and all the mentions of film cameras and not having phones (Alex, at 15 is forced to get from the airport to his grandma’s house alone without being able to contact her) felt quite antiquated. I guess it reminded me how fast the world has changed in my lifetime.
The next thing I noticed is that Allende (who mostly has written adult books, quite critically acclaimed) doesn’t really seem to understand children and teenagers and how they work. Nadia doesn’t sound like any 13 year old I have ever met (I guess this could be explained by her upbringing). There’s all these mentions of Alex smoking cigarettes and drinking and deciding he didn’t like it, but I don’t think that many 15 year olds do that?? Maybe I’m just a prude who never did anything wild. And just the tone of the language didn’t fully read like something for kids (Even though I did like most of it at age 8, though was scandalised by the one oblique mention of menstruation). The dialogue didn’t sound like how kids talk and had no slang. This doesn’t mean it was a bad book, just not really like a more modern children’s or YA book. This could also be the product of being a translation.
I absolutely loved the setting. I’ve never been to the Americas, but I would love to go to the Amazon one day. I liked that this book emphasised that while the Amazon is being horribly exploited, it is still beautiful. And I thought it captured the politics surrounding indigenous tribes and the exploiting of resources quite well, with all its nuances. It made me dream of going to the Amazon one day, and made my heart hurt at the destruction of it.
The characters weren’t amazingly round, even though they clearly both grew. I especially felt like Nadia was continuously portrayed to be wise beyond her years but wasn’t actually. And I didn’t feel like the third person perspective gave much insight.
However, I liked reading this and the plot was good. Plus it gave me a lot of nostalgia. I’d give it 3 stars.
Do you have nostalgic childhood favourites? Did your parents read to you? Do you know what I mean about characters that don’t seem like children?