G.A. Kowatch’s imaginative middle-grade novel takes young readers to the Florida’s Everglades, where two stranded youngsters renew their friendship and meet a menagerie of creatures, each on their own inner journey.
Twelve-year-olds Ocean River and Ellen Hansen had been best friends until a tragedy put them at odds. Lately Ellen only notices Ocean’s quirkiness and immaturity and tries to avoid him.
Then an airboat ride through the Everglades, planned before their falling out, results in a crash, landing the pre-teens in a jungle-like atmosphere. Suddenly, with the help of a legendary Seminole ghost, Ocean and Ellen realize they can communicate with animals. They meet the anxious, but peace-loving alligator, Gumbo, and his cohorts: a naive, soft-shelled baby turtle named Bix, and a wise, though aurally and visually challenged, wood stork named Asha. The trio are intent on helping these adolescents find their way home.
In this heartfelt adventure, Kowatch showcases both the beauty and dangers of the Florida marshland, detailing a landscape of murky waters, hungry pythons, banana spiders, and “Holy Mud” quicksand. Gumbo ponders that “every ecosystem had its insects, its plants … its own deadly players.”
The storyline alternates between Ocean and Ellen’s rekindled connection and their interactions with the animals. Mini-thumbnail character images open each chapter, highlighting the changing narrative point of view. Larger black-and-white illustrations offer details that add a rich texture. Discussions about pollution, global warming, and other environmental topics deliver a worthwhile educational component, along with the story’s powerful message about believing in oneself.
From toupee wearing raccoons and unacknowledged offensive smells, to mourning dove droppings on Ocean’s head (“call me the poop magnet,” he jokes), young adolescent humor prevails. A surprising twist helps bring the story full-circle.
With its imaginative tapestry of adventurous humans, anthropomorphized creatures and well-paced action, Enchanted Everglades will please middle-grade readers. But its poignant lessons could also draw teachers or mentors interested in sharing the importance of finding peace within both nature and ourselves.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.