Most adventure stories for young adults don't go much below the surface of the story. Oh sure, there will be some sort of moral or lesson to be learned in some of them, but on the whole the action is what matters. The stories themselves aren't bad, but the books always seem to lack something in sophistication and too often have little or nothing to do with most young people's reality. Oddly enough the books that do the best jobs of dealing with subjects that are pertinent to young people are usually fantasy books set outside our everyday world. It's as if since the story doesn't take place on earth or in our time period the author has license to mention the subjects because he or she isn't dealing with reality.
So when I discovered South American author Isabel Allende, best known for her novels The House Of Spirits and Zorro, had written a series of books for young adults, I was intrigued as to what she would do with the genre. Allende usually does a remarkable job of mixing contemporary political and social issues into her novels without ever losing track of her responsibilities as a storyteller. With Harper Collins Canada issuing new editions of her trio of young adult titles under their Perennial Editions it seemed like as good as chance as any to check out if she was able to have the same success with this genre as she's had with other titles.
City Of The Beasts, first published in 2002, is the first of three books (the other two being Kingdom Of The Golden Dragon and Forest Of The Pygmies) that see teenaged Alexander Cold flying halfway around the world with his grandmother Kate. Kate is anything but your average grandmother, being a writer for naturalist magazines whose assignments invariably take her well off the beaten path to check out rumours of various exotic and dangerous creatures. At 15 Alex's world is being turned upside down by his mother's battle with cancer. When his father decides that she will be better off taken for treatment in a hospital in Texas, Alex and his two sisters are sent off to live with their grandparents.
While he would have gladly joined his sisters in going to stay with his maternal grandmother, he's less than thrilled to be told he'll be spending the duration of his time with his dad's mom. When his father casually mentions that he should take his passport with him because it looks like he'll be going into the heart of the Amazon rain forest with Kate, he's heart sinks even further. When Alex finds out that he'll be joining an expedition searching for a mythological Yeti-like creature, simply referred to as The Beast, who is said to release a scent that paralyses its victims before it cuts them open with huge claws, his only consolation is since nobody has ever found the Yeti, the chances of them finding The Beast will be pretty slim.