Penguin Young Readers Group, $16.95, 275 pages
In James Nelson’s young adult novel, On the Volcano, Katie MacDonald navigates the dangers of frontier life as a young woman. Living in seclusion atop a volcano, Katie’s life changes dramatically on her sixteenth birthday when she accompanies her father to the dangerous town of Badwater, disguised as a mute boy.
After a fight with Jess, a malicious seventeen-year-old boy, Katie’s identity is discovered, and Jess wants revenge. “Hunt as though you’re being hunted” is her father’s hunting motto. When Katie discovers a man’s leather glove atop the volcano, she knows they are not alone—and her father’s advice brings on a new meaning.
However, not every man Katie meets in Badwater is cruel. When she thinks about Adam Summerfield, the handsome young sheriff’s deputy, she “[gets] that funny feeling in [her] insides” as she grapples with new emotions and desires.
At times, Nelson’s dialogue is unnatural and childish for his protagonist’s age, but the plot is suspenseful, addressing tough issues such as sexual assault, violence, and murder. On the Volcano is ultimately an adventure novel that embraces the importance of family and highlights a strong female protagonist as she becomes a woman.
Reviewed by Emily Davis