Review

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green

by Helen Phillips

Madeline Wade, her little sister Roo and their mother are in an unsteady, tiny airplane high above the jungle. Mad doesn't like to admit how scared she is; after all, she is 12 years old --- and Roo, at nine, is thoroughly enjoying this escapade. Then again, Mad knows that Roo is the adventurous sibling, while she tends to be way more cautious. Also, Mad has been jumpier since The Weirdness began.

"It has a winning cast of characters: Mad and her family seem so real, readers might believe they've met them before. Mad is a sympathetic heroine whose internal struggle to believe in herself perfectly meshes with her external journey to save her family."

Her father, a bird expert, has been in the South American jungle working for a spa and resort called La Lava. Dad has been gone for months. At first, he called and sent letters, which were often in code for the benefit of Roo, who loves to crack codes. After a while, though, Dad quit contacting his family. The last letter he sent Mad thinks of as "The Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter" because he wrote out a weird poem on it and surrounded the poetry with disturbing drawings of flowers. Now, whenever Mom calls the La Lava Spa and Resort, she reaches a woman who, in her chilly but beautiful voice, informs her that Dad is deep in the jungle, doing very important work. According to the woman, he can't contact them and "sends all the love in his heart," which suspiciously does not sound at all like anything Dad would be caught dead saying.

Kenneth Candy, the man who found this new job for Mad's father, is along for the ride as the three family members travel to meet up with their father and husband. Candy is so chummy with Mom that it literally gives Mad a stomach ache. In fact, Ken/Neth (as Mad dubs him after he requests she call him "Ken") acts like he is now Mad and Roo's father, translating Spanish for the non-Spanish-speaking family members and giving them advice, while somehow seeming to be under the impression he's dealing with toddlers. Ken/Neth insisted on coming along on this trip to help them, but he definitely grates on Mad's nerves.

When they land at the tiny airport, a posh van picks them up. Ken/Neth sits in front with the driver, where they murmur inaudibly. Mad is surprised when they pull up at the rather run-down Selva Lodge. It seems kids are not welcome at La Lava, a fact that sends the sisters into a rage. They cool down in the motel pool until they need to make a run to the souvenir shop to buy sunscreen. In the shop, a teenaged boy with golden eyes mans the counter. It is their first glimpse of Kyle, who will become an important person in their upcoming adventure, but first comes their long-awaited reunion with Dad...who they find hunched over a table, holding his head in his hands. Dad is not happy to see them; in fact, he looks furious. He claims he has important work to do and no time for family members.

Things soon get even stranger for Mad. Her mother attends yoga classes, which seem to turn her into a smiling zombie. At Roo's insistence, the sisters, with Kyle, begin exploring the jungle in an attempt to figure out what is troubling Dad. They are soon deep in a suspenseful and daring rescue adventure that, although it endangers their lives, has such an urgent goal, they can't possibly turn away from it.

HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN is a totally captivating page-turner (can you say, "instant classic?"). It has a winning cast of characters: Mad and her family seem so real, readers might believe they've met them before. Mad is a sympathetic heroine whose internal struggle to believe in herself perfectly meshes with her external journey to save her family. In addition, themes of animal extinction and society's superficial emphasis on physical beauty add layers to a gripping adventure story set in a colorful locale.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on November 15, 2012

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green
by Helen Phillips