CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn, 2008.
159 pp., pbk., $11.99.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Ellen Wu.
Adam, along with the others, hurried to the nest and watched as careful hands cut through the pedestal supporting the egg.
"Beautiful piece of work," Mr. Jamieson said as he gingerly placed the fossil on a tripod made of pieces of sandstone. And it was - glistening white in the sunshine.
All was silent. The faint click of the camera shutter automatically opening and closing every few seconds seemed to be counting down through eons of time. This chunk of stone, which had last been exposed to the light of day too long ago for the human brain to comprehend, held an almost-hatched dinosaur baby. Adam shivered at the intensity of his own emotion.
He went back to his sketchpad. People found their voices and knelt beside the egg as if it were some kind of miracle, cheering, clapping, and watching as Mr. Jamieson labeled it.
The year is 1988, and 15-year-old aspiring artist Adam Zapotica is determined to gain access to a dinosaur dig in Devil's Coulee, Alberta, where nests of "perfectly preserved articulated dinosaur embryos" of the Hypacrosaurus (the crested duckbill dinosaur) have been discovered.
Under-aged but more than eager, Adam manages to gain temporary access to the dig through the help of a reference letter and the feisty, truth-bending Jamie Jamieson, who also happens to be the daughter of the dig director. Adam gets accepted as a temporary member of the easygoing group of graduate students, practicing paleontologists, and the occasional oddball at Devil's Coulee, and he also strikes up a friendship with Jamie.
All seems idyllic and exhilarating for the first day or two, with dig activities of the paleontologists, micropaleontologists, and sedimentologists relayed to the reader in Woodson's accessible language that is never clinical or dry. Just when Adam begins to feel like he belongs in this hubbub of research and exploration, the disappearance of a freshly excavated dinosaur egg and other small fossils leads Adam and Jamie to become sleuths in uncovering who may be responsible for fossil-poaching. Their amateurish attempts to spy on the other members of the camp lead them deeper and deeper into speculation and adventure, although Woodson keeps the tone light and the readers guessing until the end as to whether the thefts are an "inside job" or not.
Anchoring the twentieth century narrative of the two teenagers on the trail for fossil thieves is one from seventy-five million years ago in which Woodson follows the last days of a nesting Hypacrosaurus, the very one whose nest Adam and the team of scientists are excavating in 1988. The flashbacks to the female Hypacrosaurus, whom Adam fondly refers to as Hya, are effectively placed to link the present-day landscape of Alberta with the prehistoric environment, layering both time periods with an eye for the natural beauty of both periods.
Dinosaur Fever is not without a few hiccups. At times, the dialogue between the two young protagonists can sound stilted, with Jamie's occasional use of "like" and "totally" disrupting the flow of the conversation between her and Adam. Nevertheless, readers may sympathize with the "stodgy" character of Adam whose insecurities and wary conservatism are contrasted with the vivaciousness of Jamie, a situation which predictably throws them in an opposites-attract kind of relationship that blossoms promisingly in the novel's coda. The story rises into a climax in the final 30 pages, with Adam tracking and apprehending the poachers on his own, thus gaining confidence (but sadly, leaving Jamie, the more enterprising of the two, back in the safety of the camp). Thus, what sometimes resonates even more than Adam and Jamie's story is Woodson's masterful evocation of the environs of Alberta which by turn humble and inspire Adam to try to capture the world as the Hypacrosaurus would have known it. And that is what ultimately makes Dinosaur Fever worth catching.
Ellen Wu is a M.A. student in Children's Literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA.
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