Simon McDonald reviews Katherine Rundell's tale of four children plunged into the Amazon forest.
In Katherine Rundell’s gem of a book, The Explorer, a crash-landing in the Amazon leaves four children stranded deep in the jungle, who must find within themselves the strength, courage, perseverance, and wisdom to survive.
Rundell immediately thrusts readers into the action. The opening chapter details the plane’s mid-flight stutter as it travels from England to Manaus; the sudden shift from normalcy to desperation as the plane plunges into the fauna below. Before readers can catch their breath, we’re introduced to your young survivors — Fred, a white English boy, Constantia, an English girl, and biracial Brazilian siblings Lila and 5-year-old Max — and their plight for survival. At first uneasy allies, they surge through their fear and their discomfort, searching for shelter and foraging for food, scraping by as best they can on their wits alone; until Fred stumbles across an old map, and they decide to follow it to the X.
Boarding their handmade raft, the children make the precarious journey down the river, until they rediscover a lost city, and among its ruins, a mysterious man they refer to only as ‘the Explorer,’ who has the knowledge, and the tools, to see them home safely. Which he will do, right? He’s the adult amongst children, thereby the leader, thereby responsible for their wellbeing. But something from the Explorer’s past has hardened him; and he might not be the saving angel the kids hoped he would be.
The Explorer is a spirited, timeless tale of self-discovery masquerading as a rip-roaring adventure story. Young readers will delight in Rundell’s ability to bring to life the sounds and smells (and the dangers!) of the Amazon, and will be white-knuckled during the pulse-pounding moments of near-death that punctuate the narrative. But its the underlying message — that these kids, that all children — are stronger, braver, and more resilient than they give themselves credit for — that elevates the book above other titles on the shelves. It’s easy — well, relatively so — for an author to craft an action-packed story of survival; it’s far more difficult to write one with as much heart as Rundell’s story.
The Explorer pulsates with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.