Darkness, loneliness, and unseen danger lurk in an underground cave where a lost young boy waits to be rescued in this debut children’s novel.
Frederick Platt is rightfully apprehensive about joining a boys’ troop called the Woodlanders for a camping trip. Not long after his arrival, the bashful and bookish 11-year-old boy becomes the target of the group’s fierce ringleader, Craig, who leads him into the woods as a peace offering only to abandon him in an underground cave. Now, instead of overcoming his shyness with his fellow campers, Fred finds out what it’s like to be truly alone, without even his books for company. He settles into a cozy routine of searching for openings in the cave, foraging for food, sleeping to preserve his strength, and rationing his flashlight use to preserve the battery while he waits for help to arrive. The pitch-black setting lends an especially spooky ambiance to the adventure, with visceral treats such as dazzling rock formations, slippery bat droppings, and an epicurean description of what bugs taste like. Fred’s tantalizing and terrifying dreams shake him awake, adding to his frustration as he realizes that he is still underground alone. There are light religious undertones as he turns to Bible verses for solace and speaks to a magical crow. Finally, when all hope of rescue is seemingly lost, Fred faces his fear of the strange surroundings, fights through physical pain, and learns what it truly takes to survive. Fuller’s entertaining log ride of an ending is full of twists, turns, and splashes of water. In the illuminating recap of what was happening aboveground, older readers will note that Craig is more than just a bully—his humiliation tactics turn murderous when he fails to tell the adults where he last saw Fred before he went missing. But in retrospect, Fred wishes he would have turned the other cheek, which in this context translates to “don’t poke the bear,” and it’s solid advice for kids. Eerie and wonderfully tense, this tale delivers a strong protagonist grappling with the unknown.
A taut survival story that digs deep into the part of the imagination where the subterranean meets the sublime.