Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013.
“With her entire being, Samantha wanted to be an archaeologist, just like her Uncle Jay. On weekends, her parents would sometimes drive her from their home in Davis, California, and drop her off at her uncle’s university on the far side of San Francisco Bay. Samantha and Jay would talk for hours, sprawled among his notes and photographs.”
Twelve-year-old Samantha Sutton dreams of being an archaeologist when she grows up, just like her Uncle Jay. So when her Uncle invites her to spend the summer helping him on an excavation at Chavín de Huántar in the Peruvian Andes, it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, the only way to convince her parents to let her go is if her thirteen-year-old brother, Evan, goes too. Sam is determined not to let her brother ruin her summer, even when the grad student assigned to supervise them seems to prefer Evan, despite his lack of interest in archaeology. Unfortunately, Adam’s prejudice isn’t her biggest problem. Chavín de Huántar is being looted despite the careful precautions being taken at the site, and tensions between the archaeological team and the local government are rising. Residents of the valley blame El Loco—the Madman—for the thefts, and it is up to Sam to figure out if El Loco is really the culprit, or just a ghost story.
I picked up this title to fill out the Action Adventure category of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, but for the most part, there was more mystery than action or adventure, as Samantha tries to suss out who is looting the site. Most of the action and adventure comes towards the end of the novel. The mystery takes a while to build up, and the interim is about archaeology, navigating a foreign culture and language, and sibling rivalry. These are all great themes, and Jordan Jacobs does them justice. I particularly liked his attention the ethics of the situation, and the conversation Sam and her Uncle have after the grave of an Incan girl is unearthed on the site. Jacobs is an archaeologist himself, and this book does a much better job of representing the realities of the discipline than other media kids might be familiar with, such as Indiana Jones, or Tomb Raider. However, I think that young readers might appreciate a little more action mixed in with the educational material. If I found this book to be a bit slow-paced, I can only imagine how it would feel for a kid. I would recommend this title for middle grade readers with a strong interest in archaeology or South America, but I think other young readers might struggle to get through it. It could also work well in the classroom in conjunction with a unit on Peru, or ancient civilizations.
Volume two, Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen, is due out in January.