The Compass Cactus is a short book telling the first part of Sarah’s summer adventures. Every year, science teacher Mr. Turner awards a day at the Ghost Creek Day Camp to anyone who scores 100% on their final exam. Students work towards this aim all year long and Sarah is delighted when she is chosen with a few of her friends. But as the weather worsens and flash flood threatens the school bus, they realise that the day will not be as fun as they had expected.
The back cover summary caught my attention straightaway. A young adult book was a nice break in my reading and the story seemed promising. However, I must admit I was disappointed. I would not say I did not enjoy it at all, but I turned the last page being rather frustrated, as it did not live up to my expectations.
First of all, the figures did not convince me. I know it is a young adult novel, but still, their character was not developed enough; therefore, I did not have the feeling I got to know them enough to like them. We have the “goodies” and the “baddies”, two clearly defined groups, and the clichés annoyed me because of the lack of realism. In such a critical situation, I cannot really imagine that anybody could be stupid enough to go on trying to harm someone before even thinking about their own safety. Likewise, the perfect protagonists with leader qualities who could save everybody else got on my nerves rather quickly.
The story focuses mainly on Sarah, but eight other students and the teacher are part of the group as well. I felt that it was too many given that the book only has 73 pages. Some of the characters are only briefly introduced to the reader, but they do not seem to really play a role in the plot. However, keeping in mind that there are two more books to come, they might develop later on. It would be interesting to find out...
I found the idea of the plot itself interesting, although not original. I was thus waiting for a special event, for something that would make it different from anything I had read before, but it never came. It I try to analyse why I was disappointed, I must say it is probably because of the lack of suspense. Indeed, the main problem is that we know most of what is going to happen because of the back cover summary. If it contained less information, I would probably have felt drawn to Sarah’s adventures much more that I actually did and not expected more dramatic events to take place.
The positive points of The Compass Cactus – because there are some as well – are mostly the writing style; it perfectly suits the young adult genre and is easy to read. The organisation of the book in chapters with mention of the day and time is good and the layout pleasant. I also enjoyed the fact that we had various viewpoints as the story went on; briefly meeting the rescue team, the bus driver, Sarah’s parents... is a good way of keeping our interest and involving a little suspense in the plot.
The explanations about flash flood and several other elements about nature and scouting were also interesting, but I would have liked to know more about the context and environment than about the characters’ actions.
The Compass Cactus is not a book that convinced me. I finish it with an aftertaste of unfinished: the plot and the characters are interesting, but I think they need to be developed and improved in order to avoid clichés. The main problem is the back cover summary, which spoils the suspense and actually advertises for the second and third books rather than for the first one. A much younger audience will however probably enjoy reading it – maybe I have just become too old and fussy to enjoy young adult reads!
I thank the authors Kari Kinnard Pratt and Kent Johnson Olsen for providing me with a copy of their book and Bostick Communications for allowing me to discover a wide range of new books. Although my review is not as good as I had expected, I might read the next books if I get chance as I do not like to be left with mixed feelings.