When narrator Gus is rescued from neighborhood bully Bo by the very capable Rossi—who sacrifices her beloved dirt bike, Loretta, in the doing—an unlikely adventure in the nearby Dead Frenchman’s Mine is triggered.
Equipped with a pickle jar of water and some sandwiches, Gus sets off into the mine in search of treasure to buy Loretta back, with the unwanted company of Bo’s lackey Matthew. Shortly after, Rossi shows up in the mine with Jessie, Gus’ former best friend. (Readers learn early on that Rossi is Native American and Jessie is Mexican-American; Gus and Matthew are implied white.) Naturally, the mine tunnel collapses, leaving them trapped. In a series of narrative contrivances, the four 13-year-olds happen upon discoveries that may lead both to their escape and to the truth behind an old local legend. Even as they struggle to find their way—and amid encounters with a mountain lion, bats, and javelinas—the kids take time to discuss many of the challenges they face in the outside world and among one another. These interludes may strike readers as ill-timed given the danger, but they offer Bowling ample opportunity to play Gus’ cluelessness and Matthew’s casual malice against Rossi’s and Jessie’s firsthand familiarity with American racism. Although Gus is careful to point out that Rossi is Tohono O’odham, and later Rossi reveals some factoids about her heritage, his fascination with her dark ponytail and her general inscrutability reinforce stereotypes—as does the obviousness of the setup.
A tale full of set pieces meant to lead kids to home truths but that might not get them there. (Adventure. 10-14)