Avery Miles is ready to spread her wings and prove her worth on a church mission trip to Iraq, but when their entourage gets blown off course in a desert dust storm, the group is lost in an inexplicable garden oasis. Along with the luscious fruits and crystal springs, Avery and her friends find poisonous snakes, deadly sink holes, and a group of natives that are almost unearthly—but that's not their biggest problem. No matter which way they trek, they can't seem to leave.
To keep the group safe, Avery steps up and takes charge, but it isn't long before she realizes things aren't as they seem. She isn't the only one seeing the mysterious boy named Rae, and she's pretty sure her father is sabotaging her rescue efforts. Gathering her courage, Avery must decide what's most important to her—finally winning her father's approval, or getting out of the jungle for good.
I’ve honestly never read a book like this before. I’m usually more a speculative person myself, but I do love survival stories. So when I saw this was a survival story with a touch of the supernatural, well, call me intrigued!
Avery has just arrived in Iraq on a mission trip with a group of other teens. She’s hoping to use this trip as a way to prove to her father that she can handle herself in the real world. Well, she gets a bit more than she bargained for. A sandstorm throws the group’s bus off into a desert just outside a mysterious jungle. On the one hand, this jungle provides food and water, which is good since the group is left stranded with a broken bus. On the other hand, the jungle doesn’t seem to play by the rules of the universe. People who enter it lose entire days of their lives, unearthly people roam within, and no matter how far away you walk from it, you always appear back.
Avery and her group do their best to survive the hot desert and peculiar jungle, all the while trying to find a way to get back to civilization. But as more and more dangers cross their path, and Avery’s father shows keen interest of the jungle, Avery can’t help but solve the mysteries within.
At first I was a little bored, but I think that was my own fault. I expected a more action-y book for some reason. But this story really isn’t about the action, it’s about the mystery. Once I got that in my brain, I started enjoying it much more. It pulls you along with one strange occurrence after the next. I couldn’t help but turn the pages, desperately wanting to see what happens at the end. The pace is pretty fast. It doesn’t take long at all to get through. Small and quick chapters, which I like.
My favorite bit of it was the survival. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by stories about a small group being stranded somewhere and having to learn to survive, but I just love it! And that’s exactly what this book was. You could feel the misery of the desert sun and the chill of the night. The characters did their best to ration the food they had on the bus and instead eat the fruit of the jungle, but, after a while, their appetites longed for something other than fruit. They had to trek back and forth for water, and make shelters, all while in danger of the mysterious jungle. All fun things! (Because, ya know, watching people suffer in fiction is fun…? #BookWormProbs)
To add to the hardships of survival and the mystery of the jungle, Avery struggles with her own inner problems—like having to learn to work with her ex-boyfriend.
Each character has a good backstory that slowly becomes unveiled over the course of the story. We have four characters who are the main focus—Avery, Luca, June, and Benny. The story itself goes back and forth between the point of view of Avery and her ex-boyfriend Luca, giving a deep understanding of each of them and their rocky past.
Avery: She is our main main character, as the story mostly revolves around her. At first, I wasn’t super wild about Avery. She was a little bit too stubborn and never opened up to people. But as her backstory came to light, all her actions began to make sense. I became sympathetic and understanding of why she was who she was. I appreciated the realism of her character, as well as her growth through the story.
Luca: Luca was one of my favorites! Where Avery took on a take-charge attitude to prove herself, I believe Luca took charge just because he genuinely wanted to help everyone, and no one else was stepping up. Not only was he keeping the group together and making sure they always had enough food and water, he never hesitated to help Avery when she was desperate to solve the mystery of the jungle. He was strong and brave and a total sweetie. I love ‘im!
June: She was my other favorite. Her calm, sweet demeanor was a breath of fresh air amidst the group of stubborn teenagers. She had a rather surprising character arc, some things I didn’t expect of her, but it just made her all the more human. I loved how she was so nice but not utterly perfect. A very well rounded character!
Benny: At first Benny really, really got on my nerves, and I feared was just there to serve as the comic relief. But he surprised me at how deep his character turned out to be. Honestly, he was probably the most realistic of all of them. I feel like we all know a “Benny”. He’s kind of that annoying pest of the group, but once you realize what their home life is like, you understand why they’re so needy. I actually ended up totally loving Benny.
There was a gaggle of other characters, but these four are the main ones the story revolves around.
The author did a good job of making realistic characters, though I didn’t connect with them quite as deeply as I would have liked. I don’t think it was that they weren’t deep though, I think I just didn’t get enough of their backstories or dug deep into their emotions. We do get the gist of their lives back home and why there’s tension between Avery and Luca, etc., etc. but it was always quick mentions here and there, never dwelled on. The emotions, as well, were there but brushed over a little too quickly a lot of the time. Sometimes I felt as if the story went a little too fast, more focusing on the actions of the characters than their inner feelings. Every scene just seemed a smidge rushed to me. Buuut I’m pretty picky with pacing, so this could very well be a me thing. XD
One thing that surprised me was the lack of God. This is a Christian book, and revolves around a mission trip and spiritual warfare, and yet…God wasn’t there much at all. Sometimes it would mention a character praying or something, but we never really just see the characters leaning on God. A character even got saved near the end, and all we’re given is a couple of quick sentences saying they prayed. No real deep talks or much emotion or anything like that. It just kinda surprised me. It definitely had some good messages and characters arcs, but I would have liked to see God way more present. Especially in the climax. Some of the events didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because the characters hadn’t shown any deep interest in God before then. But now I’m getting into spoiler territory so I shall hush.
Really…hardly anything! There was definitely some dangerous happenings and injuries, but nothing was ever described in deep detail.
As I said though, this was a spiritual warfare book, with mentions of angels and demons. It gets a little deep, especially with the demon thing, so I’d keep that in mind for younger readers.
No language or inappropriate content at all. There was some romance, but very, very lowkey.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this, but wasn’t utterly wowed. The characters were realistic, but I would have liked to see more of their backstory and emotions. The plot could have maybe been a bit more action-packed. BUT it did keep me utterly intrigued. Every time I picked it up to read, I didn’t want to have to stop. And I definitely loved the survival aspect of it!
As I said at the beginning, it was nothing like anything I’ve ever read. I quite enjoyed stepping out of my usual genres and giving something fresh and new a try. The premise of a youth group being stranded in a supernatural jungle was spectacular, and I may just have to try more books like this sometime!
If you enjoy survival stories full of mystery and/or spiritual warfare tales, I’d definitely recommend this one!
Have you read Shadowed Eden? Am I the only one utterly enthralled by survival stories? What do you think about spiritual warfare books? I personally find them fascinating! Tell me your thoughts!
And stayed tuned, because in a couple of weeks Katie Clark herself will be here at Musings of an Elf sharing how this story came about. It’s gonna be fun!
NOTE: I received a free ebook copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.