First of all, good job to the designer on this one – the paper feels nice, the size is slightly squarer than most chapter books, there are lovely designs on the first page of each chapter, and the colors of the cover and endpapers reflect the world of the book nicely. Well done.
But on to what really matters for kids picking up this book – it’s a quick, tense read. It’s easy to imagine yourself in Lucy’s position – how restricted you’d feel if you were someplace exciting but not allowed out to explore – even though most of us don’t have ambassadors for parents. She love, love, loves African animals and dreams about encountering them in the wild. She gets her opportunity, but not without consequences.
Her kidnapping is handled nicely by Yohalem – it’s scary but never truly disturbing. You believe her life is in danger and that she must escape to stay alive, but the kidnapping is political and doesn’t have any creepy overtones that would make the story inappropriate for kids (I’m thinking middle school, although it could go younger for kids who wouldn’t be freaked out by the premise).
Lucy is an appealing character, but the book is much more driven by the plot and by the setting. Readers interested in African wildlife or Ethiopia will find this a real treat – and the crazy part is getting to the end and finding out which events were actually based on a real story. I won’t tell, but it was one of those plot points that would seem completely unrealistic if it hadn’t actually happened.