Door of No Return

Door of No Return

Author: Sarah Mussi

Publication: Margaret K. McElderry, 2007

Pages: 400

Overall Rating:  bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Zac Baxter’s grandfather is killed in a mugging, but Zac knows it was no random crime.  A blank faced woman was there when it happened.  He sees her again at the police station and overhears a strange phone conversation.  When his house is ransacked and everything stolen he knows for sure that it was no random act.  The muggers were after an antique journal his grandfather owned, the writings of a long dead African prince who was sold into slavery by the British.  Those journals supposedly hold the secret to a vast fortune in gold – a king’s ransom paid by the prince’s father for the release of his son, but lost somewhere in the dark jungles of Africa.  But most important of all, the journals tell about an ancient treaty, signed by the British and pledging an end to slavery among the king’s tribe.  If Zac can find that treaty he’ll be able to bring the whole British government to court for millions in reparations.  It’s a race against time.  With the help of his new friend Ashley, Zac must head to Africa to try and find the treasure before it’s too late.  But danger lurks around every corner, and death is a very real possibility.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Mussi does a great job developing her characters, especially Zac.  By the end I really felt like I understood Zac and the deep seated emotions that drove him on in the face of unimaginable odds.  And Mussi really does put some massive obstacles in Zac’s path, leaving him far out in the wilds of Africa, stuck in a leper colony with no passport and no money, surrounded by miles of jungle, ravenous dogs, and a vicious priest.

That’s putting his situation a little too simply, however.  There are multiple of layers of complexity to the problems Zac faces.  After all, he really is one lone kid facing up the entire might of the British government, which is determined to stop him at any cost.

Mussi also does a great job of weaving Ghanaian culture, life, and scenery into the story.  Once Zac arrives in Ghana it’s easy to feel the potholes in the road, to smell the scent of the jungle.  And Mussi does an equally wonderful job of making her characters sound distinctly African when they speak without making their dialogue difficult to read.

Finally, Mussi does a great job of weaving the journals, and the history they tell, into the story.  Instead of having Zac translate and read the diaries all at once, she drips into the story bit by bit, weaving them in as a break between action scenes.  It works great, and keeps us wondering right up the end what really happened to the prince and his treasure.

What I Liked the Least: Zac makes it a long way on his own.  He almost pulls the whole thing off without any read adult assistance.  And then, right at the end, he winds up getting rescued by a bunch of adults.  It was a letdown to an otherwise excellent story.

There is a traitor in the book, a person who gives Zac away.  Zac doesn’t know who it is until the very end, but as a reader it felt a little bit too obvious who the traitor was and didn’t come as any real surprise.

Zac’s friend, Ashley, seems to know far too much for an average kid.  We aren’t given any real background on him, anything that would explain how he knows so much, and yet he’s able to pull off all kinds of fancy tricks with computers and electronics and seems to know a whole lot about things like how to use a compass, jungle survival, and just about everything else.  To top it all off he’s a great writer.  It’s just a little too much.

There were a few times in the middle where the story seemed to bog down.   It didn’t last long, but it did disrupt an otherwise excellent read.

The ‘priest’ who runs the leper colony in Ghana was a bit too conveniently sloppy, leaving classified emails printed out and hanging around for Zac to find.

How Good was the Action?  It’s quite well done for the most part.  This isn’t a non-stop action thriller, and there are plenty of scenes where it slows down as Zac tries to figure things out or deals with his fears, but the action scenes that Mussi does have are pretty gripping and there are definitely some moments where Zac and his companions find themselves in extreme danger.

In many ways, this book falls more on the adventure end of the action/adventure spectrum.  Zac faces many terrifying moments, but it’s not a book with a lot of chase or fight scenes.  It’s an adventure story, with plenty of opportunities for fear as Zac feels the forces arrayed against him slowly tightening the noose.  And Mussi does a great job of helping us to feel the darkness of the jungle, and true terror that fills Zac as he struggles to escape his Ghanaian prison, running for his life while with a pack of vicious dogs on his trail, and battling his way through massive ocean waves in a sea canoe.

How Engaging was the Story?   Mussi really gets you into Zac’s head.  You can feel his fear and paranoia as he questions every friendship and everyone around him.   And you can feel the walls closing in as his options slowly dwindle away.

Mussi also does a fantastic job of not just weaving in the story of Zac’s ancestor – the African prince, Bartholomew – but of drawing parallels between Bartholomew’s tragic history and the very real dangers that Zac is facing in the present.  Drawing the two stories together like that only added to the power of Zac’s own struggles.

Overall Assessment: This is a very cool story.  I really like the premise and I loved Zac’s character.  There were some downfalls – characters that didn’t really work and places where the story dragged – but that was a small price to pay for what is overall an excellent read.  It’s a fun adventure story peppered with authentic bits of Ghanaian culture and a very sobering, but well executed, reminder of the horrors of slavery.

Profanity: Minimal

Sex: Some mild flirting, but nothing more serious than that.

Violence: Yes.  It’s not gory but there’s definitely violence here.  Zac’s dad gets killed by muggers.  He’s threatened and beaten by the priest in Ghana, chased by vicious dogs, and almost killed on more than one occasion.  And then there’s the story of Bartholomew, which is one of treachery, murder, and enslavement.  So there’s violence, but it’s all handled very well and never feels especially bloody.

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