It’s getting cold. Time to read about warm places. Brazil! Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith comes along just in time for an armchair escape from the looming winter. I have been hearing a lot about this new genre of “new adult”. With the popularity of young adult fiction reaching across to adult readers, authors have embraced the formula of the young but tough girl coming of age. But there are still taboos in place about what you can and cannot put in a book marketed to minors. “New adult” is the answer! You still get a fresh young protagonist, she is just 20-25 instead of 14-19. This translates into many of the same coming of age issues you find in young adult literature but in this age bracket, publishers don’t shrink from adult issues like sex, drinking, drugs, or crime. You can raise the stakes while reaching much of the same audience. I was interested in checking it out.
Emma has to get away for a while. Her college career is in jeopardy and lawyer advises her to get out of town to avoid the scandal. She heads off to Rio on the pretext of taking a journalism internship with her reporter-father. There she does anything but lay low. A famous environmentalist, and friend of her father is murdered. While attending the funeral, Emma finds herself championing the indigenous tribes, defending the environment, foiling a poaching operation, and ultimately solving the murder of her father’s friend. Not bad for a semester off.
What wander~readers will love:
- Victoria pulls off that delicate balance of showing you her setting for what it is, warts and all, while clearly loving the land she talks about. No false idealism or romance about the land or it’s local people. She talks about the high crime rate and shows how the characters have to negotiate it. She talks about the hopelessness of making any lasting difference in a corrupt system while still empowering the protagonist to take action. Victoria clearly loves Brazil for what it is. Not for some ideal tourist fantasy of it.
- While there is a romantic interest, it’s presented in a thoroughly modern way. It’s not swoony and has just enough of a hint of machismo to ring true to the culture but still fully respect Emma agency. The romance is not pivotal to the plot though it does provide a reason for the guy to hang around and keep working with Emma.
- Amazon Burning puts you there. You get a brief overview of Rio, you realistically navigate the Brazilian transportation system. You spend several days in the jungle. You hang out in a small hotel in a jungle town. You even visit a tribal village. Which brings us to the next point and my most favorite thing about Amazon Burning.
- The book lets you get to know the Yanomami tribe. There are several indigenous and half-indigenous characters that are fully three-dimensional. Victoria gives them significant roles to play and complex cultural issues to navigate. I get so sick of the cliche of the noble savage being protected by the great white champion. Victoria grants a level of self efficacy to several native characters you don’t often see in genre fiction.
So, after reading Amazon Burning (and you really should) you might be curious about the Brazilian rain forest and the Yanomami people. Here are a few suggestions for your follow-up reading. (I know I’m not the only wander~reader to do follow up non-fiction reading after a novel brings me somewhere as interesting as this!)
Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power
This discusses the historic and economic contributions of Brazil and how the Rainforest is both provider of of and victim of it. If you are curious about the complexities of saving the rainforest, this is the book for you.
Into The Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomami
I suspect this man was largely Victoria’s inspiration for writing her novel. The murdered environmentalist and his family in Amazon Burning bear a striking resemblance to the story of this anthropologist. Of course (spoiler alert) you’ll be happy to know Kenneth Good is still alive!
The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman
As you might have gathered from this post, I’m a strong believer that people should speak for themselves. The Falling Sky is a Yanomami shaman speaking to us rather than some anthropologist explaining him to us.
What are your favorite Amazon books?
Read ~ Write ~ Wander
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