Samantha San Miguel's debut, Spineless, is a spirited and imaginative middle-grade adventure that tracks the triumphs and mishaps of an aspiring young naturalist in Gilded Age Florida.

The novel begins en route to Hotel Paraíso, a health resort in the swamplands of Florida, where the asthmatic 12-year-old Algernon "Algie" Emsworth will be vacationing with his snarky older brother, Everett, and his protective mother. Algie gets lost on the way to the hotel and is saved by Francisca and Lourdes Davenport, young field biologists and daughters of Hotel Paraíso's proprietor. Upon arrival, Algie is stunned by how seemingly empty the hotel is--that is, until he enters the ballroom and sees well-dressed patrons dancing. But the rundown hotel is hiding something disturbing: there are rumors of a deadly curse, sea monsters and an approaching red tide. On top of that, the hotel is housing a sinister circus troupe and an enterprising cryptozoologist who is trying to grow rich by capturing and selling off the local wildlife. Algie and the Davenport sisters team up to stop the swindlers before they can further decimate the local ecosystem.

San Miguel's lively story engages deeply with the power of pretending. Algie has little to no life experience of his own thanks to his health troubles and the shielding arm of his mother. But he does have a plethora of practical knowledge thanks to his bookishness. When times get tough, he embodies the brave scientist he wishes to become: he straightens his back, fixes his umbrella cap firmly onto his head and dives head first into danger. Algie's heroism in times of uncertainty reminds us that empathy, not knowledge, is the greatest good of all. --Cade Williams, freelance reviewer and staff writer at the Harvard Independent

Powered by: Xtenit