Jungle of Bones

21 Jan

Today’s book review is for Jungle of Bones, by Ben Mikaelsen, published by Scholastic. It is scheduled for release on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Jungle of Bones book cover

Dylan Barstow has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Ever since his father died, he keeps getting in trouble. But when he steals a car from the junkyard to spin donuts in a field, his mother gives him an ultimatum: spend the summer before 8th grade in lockup or spend it with ex-Marine Uncle Todd. Reluctantly Dylan chooses Uncle Todd. Soon he discovers that Uncle Todd has bigger plans for the summer than early morning jogs–they’re going to take a trip to Papua New Guinea to join a team of 3 other people in search of the wreckage of WWII bomber Second Ace. When Dylan gets lost in the jungle, he finally has to confront the realization that he is not the center of the universe. If he wants to survive, he’s going to have to abandon his assumptions and anger.

Recently I realized that I’d need to push myself to read outside of my “comfort genres” in order to better serve my audience. The synopsis for this title sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try. It turned out that the story was so engaging, I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish the book in one sitting.

It was the descriptions of Papua New Guinea, the jungle and the struggle for survival that really hooked me in. They were skillfully written. I could imagine the smells and the oppressive humidity. I could picture the shanties and villages. Everything felt so vivid, alive and alien. That sort of powerful description can be hard to master. Some writers over-do it, using purple prose and redundant adjectives. Mikaelsen nails it, though.

Sometimes it is hard for me to get into a book when I don’t really like the main character. And I did not like Dylan very much. That said, I knew him (because he was so much like other young men I’ve met in my life) and I cared about him. He was completely self-absorbed, disrespectful, and a real pain in the behind–but I could also recognize the pain underlying his behaviors and wanted for him to heal and move on with his life.

I could have done with a little less of the heavy-handed jingoism, though. The military history in the story was wonderful. In particular, I found the journal entries in the journal of Dylan’s grandfather to be well-done and informative. I also liked when they visited a veteran in a nursing home and got to hear his story. However, there was also a tone of military worship to the book, and a bit too much “The USA is the savior of everyone” attitude (as though Dylan’s uncle forgot that there were other countries fighting alongside the United States in World War II).

In the final assessment, though, I was able to get passes my discomforts and enjoy a well-crafted story. I liked how it encouraged inter-generational relationships, emotional healing, a respect for history, and valuing cultures that are vastly different from one’s own. It’s a great book for young people who enjoy the genres of adventure and survival. It might also be a good selection for young people who are lashing out at the world after dealing with a traumatic life event. I’m giving the book 4 stars.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


8 Responses to “Jungle of Bones”

  1. stanleyandkatrina January 23, 2014 at 1:33 am #

    I am guilty of the same thing – trying to stay within my comfort zone of what I want to read, but then I also don’t have a ton of time to read – so I’m going to stay there for now. Hee hee. What a wonderful and detailed review. Thanks for hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    Christine M/Cool Mom

    • Destiny January 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      It can be so appealing to just read what you already know you like… but the flip side is that you can learn new things when you step outside what’s familiar. My reading time is during my daughter’s nap time (unless I’m writing up my reviews!) and in the evenings when I’m winding down. Luckily I’m a fairly quick reader.

  2. Julie Grasso January 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Wow, Dawn, what a thorough and truly enlightening review. I know we are going to love having you on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Thanks for joining us and congrats on reading out of your comfort zone. I am not yet able to say that I have done it.

    • Destiny January 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks, Julie. I try to be thorough when I’m reviewing–I like to touch on at least a couple different elements of the book. At the same time, I try to keep things to around 400-600 words. I’m glad to be on the hop. It’s nice to see such a diversity of voices.

      You totally can read outside your comfort zone–it’s easier than it seems. Mostly you just have to make the choice. And you’ll likely find when you’re done that your worldview has opened just a little more.

  3. ccarpinello January 25, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    Hi Destiny. What a fascinating book. I stopped by because of the cover. Thanks for the review, and for joining us on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess

    • Destiny January 26, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

      It is a great cover design. I’ll admit that sometimes I do judge books by their covers… at least initially. If the cover design isn’t very good, I’m likely to pass it over.

  4. PragmaticMom January 25, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    I like books that allow me arm chair travel and learning about Papua New Guinea is a draw for me though I am like you and don’t like military themes that much. Thanks so much for joining the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

    • Destiny January 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

      Me, too! I love feeling like I’m really experiencing a new-to-me part of the world. I’ve never had much money or chance to travel, so books have always been my substitute!

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