I am a big fan of Allende’s books Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia. I was excited to see she has written a series for young adults. This first book, City of the Beasts does not disappoint. The story centers around 15-year-old Alex. His mother is dying and he is sent to live with his grandmother, Kate, while his mother seeks treatment. Kate is a journalists for a magazine called International Geographic. She is going to the Amazon to find a sloth like creature known as the beast.
Kate is not your average grandmother. She has smoked cigars with Alex, forgets to pick him up at the airport and risks his life on this journey into the deepest part of the Amazon Rain forest. She believes tough love with make him stronger.
Alex makes a new friend in Nadia. But Nadia is nothing like the girls he knows back home. She has a magical connection to the Amazon and it’s indigenous people. She introduces Alex to his totemic animal, the jaguar. The story follows the group as they take a boat down the amazon. The party is full of interesting characters: the pompous explorer, beautiful doctor who wants to vaccinate the natives, greedy land men and a local guide and his daughter, Nadia. One member of the party will betray them all.
The story really picks up speed when Alex and Nadia are kidnapped by a tribe that has never seen civilization called the People of the Mist. The people have the ability to become invisible and blend into nature. During his time with the People of the Mist Alex undergoes many changes. He goes on a quest that will introduce him to the beasts, who are not at all what he expected. He and Nadia receive help from a shaman called Walimai.
Allende does a beautiful job of describing the Amazon and the magical quality of the people and how they interact with nature and the spiritual world. She does not diminish her talent of well written work as she writes for a younger audience. Here are several book discussion questions:
1. Kate is not the typical grandmother. Should she treat Alex differently? Is she like your grandmother?
2. Alex’s totemic animal is a jaguar. What do you think your totemic animal would be?
3. On page 267, Alex asks this question to Walimai about the beasts. “Are they human or animal?”. Walimai does not answer. To him there is no difference. What do you think of that?
4. Are the beasts anything like they characters or you imagined?
5. What did Alex and Nadia have to give up to attain the crystal eggs and the water of health? Was it worth it?
6. How do you think someone like Dr. Torres could become so corrupt?
7. Should the People of the Mist be left alone?
The other two books in the series are Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies.