An intriguing coming-of-age story about a group of children on a U.S. military base in Panama.
Jimmy Wade and his friends are classic military brats: Each has lived in a dozen places and has no permanent friends to speak of. So when the group meets in 1953 on a naval base near the Panama Canal, they’re all thrilled to have close friends. Jimmy, athletic, intelligent and naÃ¯ve, befriends Bobbi, a tomboy with romantic aspirations. Together, with shy Mitchell and cocky Steve, they explore the mysterious jungle at the edge of the base. There they discover a lagoon and a hidden cave, a sanctuary away from their parents and ever-present military chaplain. The friends suffer through a dangerous series of incidents as a rapist prowls the area around the base. Each child’s life changes as the mystery unravels. Bookending the story is Jimmy’s return to Panama 40 years later to reunite with the group of friends. Unfortunately, despite this enticing prologue and epilogue, the entire story takes place in the past–the novel would be better served if more of the events were set in the present, tying the two periods together. More space should be devoted to their lives as adults. King writes well about children and their small triumphs, but their experiences begin to feel episodic. The setting, though, is fascinating; the children live in a foreign land, but have domestic playmates. The characters here may interact seamlessly, but the large cast and chain of events can get confusing at times. As much as the plot moves along, it never really crescendos. The novel is too long by half, and would be more powerful in a condensed volume.
A clever, if unwieldy, tale of childhood in a foreign land.