After losing her mother to cancer, a teenage girl seeks escape from her grief by joining a volunteer organization in a war-torn South American country.
This poignant story is told in alternating chapters labeled simply “Before” and “After.” The “Before” chapters tell the story of Cat, a white teen struggling through her senior year, juggling schoolwork, and bit by bit becoming the parent to her parents as her mother is diagnosed with a cancer that will eventually take her life and her father sinks into a paralyzing depression. The “After” chapters take place mostly in Calantes, the titular Amazonian “undiscovered country,” where Cat finds that her fellow teen volunteers are, like her, motivated not by altruism but by the need to escape their own demons. In Calantes she also falls in love and awakens to her sexuality. When tragedy strikes, Cat realizes one cannot run away from grief. Gold’s characters are believably drawn. The “Before” chapters are particularly powerful. The “After” chapters lose believability in their setting. It is hard to believe an organization sends teens with no particular skills or training to a country where their lives are in danger and where there seem to be no adults in either the town or the volunteer base.
In spite of some flaws, this is a sensitive portrayal of the different aspects of grief that will strike a chord with readers. (Fiction. 13-18)