Friday, October 12, 2018

24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling

Thirteen-year-old Gus is small for his age, but much smarter than most of his classmates. And he's hoping his good grades will be his ticket out of Nowhere, Arizona, a small boring, poverty-stricken trailer park town in the middle of, well, nowhere. Gus' size makes him an ideal target for bullying by the not-too-bright Bo Taylor; unfortunately, Gus' smarts don't always help him when it comes to Bo. Such is the case when Bo tries to force feed Gus with a Jumping Cholla cactus. Fortunately for Gus, Rossi Scott, a Tohono O'odham that Gus has a crush on comes along to save him, by offering Bo her beloved dirt bike, Loretta.

Feeling guilty about his safety costing Rossi her bike, Gus heads over to Bo's trailer to try and buy it back. But there's a big dirt bike race coming and without Loretta, Rossi doesn't stand a chance of beating Bo again. So Bo offers Gus a challenge - that Gus go into the Dead Frenchman Mine and bring back a big chuck of gold. Gus accepts the challenge even though he knows the mine is dangerous, that cave-ins have killed a number of gold seekers and coming out alive would be quite a feat.

While buying supplies, Gus runs in into his former old friend Jessie Navarros. When Jessie started hanging out with the other Mexican kids in school lunchroom, and speaking Spanish, Gus, who doesn't know Spanish, thought it was a pretty clear sign that Jessie was no longer wanted to be his friend. And yet, he feels compelled to tell him about the deal he made with Bo.

Later, just as Gus sets off for the mine, one of Bo's pals, Matthew Dufort, shows up. Matt has been ordered to accompany Gus into the mine to make sure he brings back a piece of real gold, not just a painted rock. Once inside the mine, they hear voices that turn out to be Rossi and Jessie, there to talk Gus out of the challenge and the mine. But Gus is determined.

No sooner does he start chiseling away, than he breaks though the wall that reveals another chamber in the cave. But then, they hear a rumbling sound and the old Dead Frenchman Mine does what old mines often do - it collapse around them. No one is killed, but with the entrance blocked, will the be able to find their way out? More importantly, will they actually find gold?

24 Hours in Nowhere has everything - excitement, humor, adventure, all contained in a dangerous setting. And it all happens within a 24 hour time frame, measured by Gus' watch, the only thing his dad ever gave him. All of these characteristics will hold a young readers attention, as will Gus' wry wit, and the vocabulary words he inserts in his first person narrative (preparation for the SATs - his real ticket out of Nowhere). 

Bowling has also sensitively addressed some pretty intense themes - poverty, bullying, child abuse, child neglect, and prejudice - and somehow the hot, barren desert in which a collapsing mine is located seems the most appropriate setting, almost as though it were another character. But then I remember how beautiful the desert is when it is in bloom, and we see the characters in this novel also starting to bloom. Of course, a death-defying adventure could do that to a person. So Bowling also addresses themes hope, friendship, and personal growth in some of her characters.

I lived in Arizona for four years and I still love it, especially the desert, and I thought it especially clever that Bowling has taken one of Arizona's more popular historical legends - the Lost Dutchman Mine - and reworked it as the Dead Frenchman Mine.

24 Hours in Nowhere will definitely take young readers somewhere and it is really worth the trip.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Sterling Children's Books

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