City of the Beasts
Isabel Allende
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City of the Beasts
Isabel Allende
432 pages
April 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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When you first start reading this book, you might think, "Oh, no, Isabel is talking down to the kiddies." But that's not true, you'll see - keep reading! Although the book is written in a spare, unadorned, decidedly simple style, that is just a smokescreen for the slow-starting plot. Before you know it, the haze clears and the body of the story opens up in front of you like a clearing in the Amazonian jungle where most of the action takes place, and you are hooked.

City of Beasts centers on the adventures of Alexander Cold, a typical fifteen year-old boy. He goes to school, where he's in band; he has a crush on a girl in his class, likes to rock-climb with his dad, fights with his sisters. Ordinary. But when his mother becomes ill, he is sent to stay with his grandmother, Kate, who is most untypical. She is a writer for International Geographic magazine, which seems to be modeled after another very popular magazine you guess which one. She is portrayed as an old-school journalist of the hard-drinking, hard-nosed, get-the-story-at-any-cost kind. To tell the truth, neither character is very appealing at first. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that they are neither as bad as they seem. They are just insecure and unwilling to open up, but they really do love each other, and both of them grow a great deal emotionally during the book.

Alexander's grandmother is on assignment to find "The Beast", a yeti-like monster with a stench so bad that it has been known to paralyze or even kill those who smell it. Traveling by boat to reach the remote jungle outpost where they will meet the rest of their group, Alex begins to see the larger world around him, far from his suburban home. Although still feeling very sorry for himself, and absolutely refusing to eat the exotic dishes (monkey, tapir, cassava) presented to him, he begins to show some interest in the adventure when he meets Nadia, the daughter of another expedition member. Nadia has been raised in the Amazon, has a pet monkey, is friends with a shaman, talks to the animals and is just all around a different kind of girl than he is used to. They become fast friends. With Nadia's help, Alex learns the ways of the jungle.

The Amazon is full of dangerous characters vicious animals, savage Indian tribes, unscrupulous smugglers, corrupt soldiers - not to mention the legendary Beast. When the young friends uncover clues of a plot to kill off the natives so the area will be opened for mining, they resolve to keep their eyes open and try to foil the plan a goal that becomes even more urgent when they meet and befriend the mysterious People of the Mist. But nothing turns out like they expect. Who should they trust?

The exciting, surprising finale will leave you hungry for more. Never fear City of Beasts is the first book of a planned series. Why don't you go ahead and clear out a little space in your bookshelves now? These are going to be keepers!

© 2002 by April Chase for Curled Up With a Good Book

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