This "Houghton Mifflin Book for Children" is absolutely NOT a book for children. While the subject matter is interesting, the subject matter is absolutely not appropriate for the intended audience and the lack of research for this book is just ... sad. These things bring down my rating for this book dramatically.
In the novel, A 16-year-old girl from Ohio moves to Panama with her family where her father is overseeing work on the creation of the Panama Canal. The girl is hoping for adventure and an authentic cultural experience, but, unfortunately, the area they live in is extremely Americanized. Since the girl had grown up next door to the Wright brothers and even helped them with their flying machines, she longs for sophisticated company like she's known back home. Her parents agree to allow her tag along with a census taker so that she can see the real lives of the canal workers. It's during her treks with the census taker that she meets Francisco whom she instantly falls in love with because he has a bookshelf full of sophisticated books and seems "aristocratic". Eventually, the girl instigates a relationship with Francisco (who's in his mid-20s) by bringing him more books to read.
I can relate to traveling to other countries with Americans who want only to mingle with Americans and eat American food and do American things rather than get to immerse themselves in another culture. I certainly can understand falling in love with a man who likes sophisticated books and wooing him with great books.
However, I want to know when underage sex with older men became an appropriate subject for a book labeled as a children's book? At the very least, it should be labeled as a young adult book. Frankly, there is more sex here in this book than in any adult book I've read all year.
Also, the book wasn't well researched. The very little Spanish the author attempts is rather bad. For example, she assumes that the infinitive form of the irregular verb "voy" is "vayer". The author also has the characters listening to a radio broadcast in Ohio 18 years before radio came to Ohio. Characters also receive telephoned news between Ohio and Panama in 1913, 2 years before the first transcontinental telephone call between New York and San Francisco was even made. This historic call (placed by Alexander Graham Bell himself) was actually made to mark the completion of the Panama Canal, but there certainly were no lines between the US and Panama yet and certainly not 2 years earlier. I'm not going to even bother looking up other historical inaccuracies.
Even without the historical inaccuracies and the age inappropriateness, I'd really only be able to give the book 3 stars. Luckily, I was able to read the book in an afternoon and didn't waste a whole week with it. So much for thinking I was going to learn a bit of history and culture within its pages.Note: While I critique both purchased and free books in the same way, I'm legally obligated to tell you I received this book free through the Amazon Vine program in return for my review. Blah blah blah.