After being sent to a mountain camp for grieving teens, impoverished Lucas learns of a multimillion-dollar treasure that may be buried nearby and can be found only by breaking a difficult cipher.
With his father recently killed in Afghanistan, his grandparents have decided to sell their beloved West Virginia mountain to strip miners. This tragedy, on top of the recent loss of his only parent, is almost unbearable for Lucas. At camp, the white country boy befriends cabin mates George, white, overweight, exuberant, and absolutely refusing to be bullied, and Salvadoran-American Alex, who is grieving for his dead mother. He also makes an immediate, persistent enemy of angry, even vicious, white rich-kid-stereotype Zack. On an overnight hike, the threesome spots a cave and sneaks off to look for treasure, then—as a consequence of Zack’s scheming—get lost in the wilderness. After Alex is injured, Lucas hikes down the mountain and enlists the reluctant aid of a surly recluse, Mr. Creech, who turns out to have just the clue needed to solve the mysterious cipher. Action-driven and with character development lagging, this fast-paced tale is based on a real, partially solved 19th-century cipher that could lead to actual treasure, adding a nifty element.
Plucky kids, the spice of danger, the lure of treasure, and an ever-so-happy (if remarkably improbable) conclusion all combine to make this an enjoyable if undemanding read. (Mystery. 10-14)