A teen’s participation on a reality show is an opportunity to search for an island treasure, a legendary fortune others are also hunting, in Brooks’ debut YA thriller.
Eighteen-year-old Riley Ozaki’s involvement in friend Izzy’s misdeed at school is minor. Regardless, students are unhappy Riley received the lighter sentence. Her online-essay response only sparks additional ire, most writing her off as a spoiled rich kid. Redemption may lie in Reality Gold, a Survivor-esque series in which 20 teenagers compete for a million dollars. Riley, however, is interested in the filming location, Black Rock Island, where she can covertly track down a long-rumored treasure of stolen Inca gold (for the imagined accolades, not the wealth). A last-minute twist ups the ante: any contestant who finds the treasure or a substantial clue wins an extra quarter million. Riley has an advantage. She smuggled in a Wi-Fi satellite receiver; she’ll possibly be the only one with internet access. But fellow contestants may have their own hidden advantages, and there’s the reputed island curse and the murder of the last treasure hunter (Riley’s godfather). Indications of another searching party, unrelated to the show, could further impede discovery, while Riley fights simply to avoid getting voted off the island. Rather than the promise of treasure, it’s Brooks’ riveting, multidimensional characters who drive the story. For one, Riley unsurprisingly has trust issues, and the contestants—her rivals—hardly seem reliable, making them much more fun to watch in action. “Cute” Porter alternates between flirtatious and sexist, while Maren’s potential as ally is countered by her unabashed cynicism and indifference. The search for gold is less engaging, though. Riley’s progress in uncovering clues is believable as she forms alliances and gets online-community assistance. Danger on the island is muted but unquestionably present: An accident may be attempted murder. And humor brightens the story, especially discourteous but unforgettable Maren’s personality-defining shirts (“Good morning. I see the assassins have failed,” one reads).
This lambent, indelible cast outshines any gold they might find.