In Cook’s debut novel for middle-grade readers, a girl on a camping trip braves volcanic eruptions, pirates, and her own townspeople.
In an alternate version of our contemporary world, a 10-year-old girl named Veronica lives on a volcano with her family. They do weekly eruption drills and need special protection for their house and car, but they also get a lava-heated pool and free lava-pump electricity. Veronica wants to get some volcano pearls for her mother’s birthday, which means a risky expedition to the far side of Mount Mystery—one that could involve “Violent eruptions, poisonous geysers, pyroclastic flows, [and] lava bombs as big as houses,” her father worries. An old man in town also disturbingly warns Veronica about an evil man in white. Nevertheless, she, her best friend Maddy, and their fathers set out on their perilous camping trip. Along the way, Veronica learns more about the area’s history from Maddy’s dad, Capt. John, the 17th member of the family bearing that name. As the foursome traverses abandoned Babeltown, steep Magma Pass, stinking Yellow Lake, and other landmarks, they encounter all the hazards that Veronica’s father predicted and more, making a series of hairsbreadth escapes before reaching Mount Mystery, with the greatest dangers still to come. An exploding volcano, the aforementioned man wearing white, and superstitious townspeople challenge Veronica, who gets help from a very unexpected source to solve a baffling mystery. In his debut, Cook offers an exciting, well-paced adventure tale with an appealingly game young heroine. The scenes of danger and escape are taut and well-handled, with Cook providing lots of cool tech (ice tires!). What makes this YA novel really stand out, though, is its multilayered, insightful poignancy. Behind the fun adventure, for example, is a sense of real loss, as shown in short notes left by wanderers in a box by a bridge: “Please make my mom well. Make her sing and dance again. Are you listening?” Cook also deals thoughtfully with such concepts as so-called “savages” and how victors write history. Shamsey’s beautiful, dynamic full-color illustrations do a great job helping to tell the story.
An exciting, complex tale with a terrific heroine.