For those of you who are old enough to remember when The Goonies was first released, do you remember just how much fun you had watching that movie? It had everything — bad guys, treasure hunt via map, snobs versus outcasts, and danger galore! It was an outstanding flick (IMO) and has held up reasonably well through the years. (Although I do wonder what Data might have done with an iPhone or tablet… and would the kids hit up the Internet first before heading out to the lighthouse?)
I love a good kids thriller, whether it’s a movie… or a book. And recently I found a book with a story that, in my opinion, would fit perfectly on the big screen. It has some great elements going for it, too — bad guy, treasure hunt via cryptic journal, quirky uncle, and danger galore!
The book is called Island of Thieves by Josh Lacey, and if you’ve got a kid who’s looking for a great action tale, this is worth picking up. The cover blurb states:
An ancient map and a buried treasure harbor a mystery worth millions in this Treasure Island – meets – James Bond thriller.
Pretty much says it all right there. But here’s some details (minus spoilers) just in case you need further convincing.
How about these two opening sentences:
I didn’t mean to burn down our garden shed. But I’m glad I did.
Tom Trelawney’s parents have left him with his somewhat-mysterious Uncle Harvey (but don’t call him Uncle!) while they’re away on a much needed vacation. Tom’s all set to enjoy New York City, even more so when his uncle informs Tom that he’ll be on his own and Tom can have the apartment to himself. A bit more questioning reveals that Harvey is leaving for Peru to follow a single journal page of barely decipherable English that hints of a buried treasure. Tom wants in, and resorts to a bit of blackmail (I mean, really… what kind of person leaves a kid all alone in New York City?) in order to be included on the adventure. Harvey is not pleased, and this should be the reader’s first hint that Tom and Uncle Harvey aren’t going to make the best travel companions.
So, off to Peru they go… where immediately upon making it through customs they’re picked up and taken to meet one of the most powerful criminals in Peru, Otto Gonzalez. Otto’s a bit upset with Harvey — on a previous visit, it seems that Harvey sold Otto a painting for $100,000 that turned out to be a fake. And now Otto wants his money back… or else! Harvey’s a wheeler-dealer, so he manages to share only a bit about the journal page that’s enough to convince Otto to give him 24 hours to find the treasure and pay him back. And Tom has to stay with Otto as his hostage!
Tom and Harvey manage to escape (briefly) and begin their own search for any remaining pages of the journal, but Otto is after them both. They don’t speak the native language, they have very little funds, and they stick out easily in the countryside. The chase begins as Tom and Harvey hunt for more clues about the journal and its author and Otto hunts for the duo looking for payback. This gets you to about page 85… the remaining 140+ pages is all about the finding of more clues and the race to get away from Otto.
In terms of action, the story’s got car chases, armed bodyguards shooting real bullets at Tom and Harvey, and a dangerous bit of rock climbing. And in terms of a treasure hunt, it’s got a cool story about a (real-life) ship’s captain, a strange journal with pages used as toilet paper (heh), and a stolen treasure that has avoided discovery for hundreds of years. And, of course, it’s called… Island of Thieves. I’d go see that movie!
Island of Thieves is a great little adventure. The situations in which Tom and Harvey find themselves do not feel contrived… and the dangers aren’t toned down at all. This isn’t a story where the kid saves the day and all the adults are stupid — it’s quite the opposite. Tom frequently finds himself in situations that are out of his control, and he quickly discovers that his eccentric uncle is just as sneaky as the bad guys.
With its movie-poster cover and fast-paced storyline, Island of Thieves will entertain kids of all ages (I know I enjoyed it!). Pick up a small map of Peru and some chocolate gold coins and throw them and the book in an envelope addressed to your son or daughter and you’ve got a perfect rainy-day distraction or weekend activity.
Note: I’d like to thank Meredith at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group for providing me with a reviewer’s copy.