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Book Review: Chupacabra by Roland Smith – guest review by Glenn Horton

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780545178174


They say (whoever they are) that guests and fish start to stink after three days. Since this is only my second guest review, I guess I should still pass the sniff test.  I am a 7thgrade Language Arts teacher at a local middle school.  Our Media Specialist and I often discuss books that we think will be of interest to the kids.  Recently she offered me the chance to read one of my favorite author’s newest creations. I jumped at the chance because Roland Smith does a great job creating stories that feature either young people or animals (my two favorite non-me subjects) as the main characters. I was given a copy of Chupacabra to read, review, and then discuss with our students.

Chupacabra is unusual in the Roland Smith young adult canon, because it is a true sequel in his Cryptid series. He does revisit his favorite characters frequently, but seldom creates true serial youth fiction. So let’s back up a little.  A Cryptid is an animal that is rumored to exist, but is largely considered mythological. Roland Smith has used several in his writing.  He began with a novel called Sasquatch, but this early work is not part of the current Cryptid Hunter series. 

This series began with the eponymous novel, Cryptid Hunters, was continued in Tentacles, and the newest novel is Chupacabra.  A chupacabra is an animal that is rumored to live in the SW US, Mexico, Central America, and South America. The name means “goat sucker” in Spanish because they are said to feed on the blood of goats and other animals. The third book in the Cryptid series continues just after the action in Tentacles.  Once again we find best friends Marty (boy genius with a photographic memory) and Luther (also a genius) plotting to handle seemingly impossible odds while trying to “rescue” Grace (Marty’s cousin although they thought they were twins until recently) from Noah Blackwood’s Seattle Ark.  Noah is clearly the villain in this series although the world thinks he is an animal activist.  His “Arks” seem to be humane zoos, but are in reality a cover for his evil plans for world domination. (OK, he really just wants to get rich and collect rare animals, but you get the point). Marty and Luther recruit Dylan, a member of Travis Wolf’s crew, to help them with Grace’s rescue.  Their plan is complicated because at the end of the last book, Grace seemed to go with Blackwood willingly. He was in the process of kidnapping a pair of dinosaur hatchlings and had a gun pointed at the good guys, but there is still some question about Grace’s motives. Travis Wolfe has been revealed as Grace’s father and is an actual activist specializing in finding cryptids worldwide.  Marty, Luther, and Dylan infiltrate the Seattle Ark and then must outsmart Blackwood’s killer henchmen (Butch and Yvonne) as well as the chupacabra, while trying to free Grace and the hatchling dinosaurs.  The ending has serious revelations for the main characters and an excellent cliffhanger.

Roland Smith has once again crafted a story that seems plausible even though the young people are each exceptional in their own right.  He does target this series to younger readers than some of his other works, so expect this to hold the interest of middle school age kids and to lose some high school age readers.  I love the way he incorporates some of his other famous characters from other series without losing continuity or sounding contrived.  He brings in other animal specialists like the Lansa family from Jaguar, who may have clues to one of the unsolved mysteries of this series.  In the narrative it makes perfect sense that Doc Lansa and Travis Wolfe would be acquaintances in the insular world of field zoology and animal activism.   Smith’s characters grow as the series progresses and they begin to realize that human motivations are much more complex than they seem.  Mr. Smith is an expert in animal behavior and even his cryptids seem to act like they should.  He manages to discuss serious world issues without preaching or ruining the great story. His lush descriptions of setting are so thorough that they often become characters in his stories. In this novel he creates above and below ground worlds that are so different that readers can feel the different types of anxiety each creates in the characters.   I would recommend that someone read the first two books in the series before this one to understand the nuances of the various relationships, but the story can certainly stand alone. I am eagerly anticipating the conclusion of this story arc, especially after the masterful cliffhanger at the end of Chupacabra.