My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was so excited to win this book in a Goodreads giveaway! It is set in the Bolivian Amazon and I have strong personal ties to the Peruvian Amazon. I spent 4 weeks in Peru as a pharmacy student, living in the jungle on a nature preserve learning about healing properties of plants in the rainforest.
We slept on mats atop wooden floors, bathed in the Amazon River, were woken by the roosters, and rowed ourselves in small canoes to the city of Iquitos for class. The jungle is an incredible but also very dangerous place as Erica Ferencik describes in her book Into the Jungle. Her descriptions of person, place, sound, smell, feeling are all spot on. Her writing transported me back to my time in Peru and I thank her for that.
The book is about a young girl named Lily who is kind of lost in life. In and out of the foster system from a young age, she finds herself taking a job as a teacher at a school in Bolivia. But when she arrives and the job falls through she ends up working at a local hostel, unable to afford a trip back to the United States. As luck would have it, she finds herself in love with a young man named Omar. But when Omar has to return to his local village of Ayachero, Lily will make a decision that will change her life forever: to go into the jungle.
First thing is first. This book is categorized as a thriller and while I think there are elements that might fall into the thriller category, I would actually categorize this more as “action” or “adventure.” It wasn’t your typical on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller with a lot of mystery and cliffhangers. It focused more on Lily’s shell shock as she adjusted to living off the land and tried to acclimate to the Amazonian culture. That being said, there was a fast paced and exciting climax that did have me on the edge of my seat and tipped the book over into the thriller genre by the end. There were also some elements of magical realism along the way.
I loved Erica Ferencik’s descriptions of the villagers and the shaman. I was lucky enough to meet with some of the local tribes in the Amazon while I was there, and I felt like her depiction of the native people was completely accurate.
I also spent some time with a shaman while in Peru who taught me about ayahuasca, a substance that is illegal in the US but is used extensively in the Amazon for its ability to induce spiritual awakening and cure the terminally ill. In fact, many people (often those with terminal disease) travel from all over the world to visit shamans in the jungle for their healing properties. There is a shaman in the story that is integral to the narrative and the descriptions of her were extremely authentic. I could envision her living off in the jungle alone and the local villagers having some unease in her presence.
The one thing that was a bit hard for me to stomach was all the death of animals described in the book. I think they were appropriately placed and created a layer of authenticity. People who live in the jungle struggle to hunt for their own food. Sometimes things are brutal. Sometimes we have to remember that in nature there is this little thing called the food chain. I think at times I forget that for some people, that’s their reality, and life is hard. Sitting in my house in Tennessee, its easy to forget that nature is unforgiving. And although difficult to read at times, the author portrayed a reality for the indigenous people.
Overall, this book was written extremely well. There is adventure. There is a love story. There are elements of a thriller and magical realism. It’s kind of got it all. I would highly recommend giving this one a read, particularly if you are looking for something unique and different, or something that will completely transport you to another place.