Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I had such high hopes for Shelby Hiatt's young adult novel Panama. Set during the time the Canal was being built, I was very intrigued by a novel in this place and time period. And while the novel was interesting, it did not live up to my hopes.

The narrator, a teenage girl, relays the story about how her family ends up in the Canal Zone - her father is an engineer, recruited heavily to come there to work. Despite her mother's protests, they eventually move. While in Panama a few years pass. In addition, she falls in love and carries on an elicit affair with a Spaniard, Federico, who has fled his homeland after an attempted murder against their king (and his former friend) fails. In Panama he must live as a worker and loses the trappings of his former life.

I read a review on Amazon calling this a "bodice ripper." I don't think it is entirely inappropriate for a high school girl....no more revealing or adult than Judy Blume or Norma Klein. And I wasn't really that interested in the romance, anyway. I was very interested in finding out that the girl's neighbors back home in Dayton, Ohio, were Orville and Wilburt Wright. Yet since the family moves to Panama, that aspect of the story isn't explored fully. (Why waste this awesome detail in this book when you could write another book about that in itself?!)

Overall, I felt like this book was average. I am not sorry I read it, but sort of lost interest somewhere in the middle when it became apparent that the story didn't really have anywhere to go. Still, fans of young adult historical fiction novels may enjoy it, and this is the only book I have ever read offering an account of the Panama Canal Zone's construction.

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