The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks, 344 pp, RL 4
Catherine Jinks' newest book, The Paradise Trap, is a surprise for two big reasons - the continual presence of adults in the story and the fact that the villain at the heart of the story is a character from Greek mythology. The Paradise Trap also stands out among the recent crop of fantasy novels for being set squarely in the United States. Even the fantasy world that is created, the Paradise Trap of the title, is an echo (albeit a malevolent one) of life as we know it here. But, I am getting ahead of the story.
Holly Bradshaw is a single mom hoping to give her son Marcus a summer vacation that will get him out of the house and off those video games that he seems to be playing constantly saying, "I guarantee Diamond Beach will be more fun than any computer game. It will be our best holiday ever." She buys a creaky old trailer and books a space at Diamond Beach, the place where she spent many happy summer vacations as a child. A thorough cleaning of the trailer does nothing to remove the "sweaty gym clothes" smell that bothers Marcus, but his mother assures him they will spend most of their time outdoors enjoying the "rock pool and barbecues and lagoons and heaps of great kids and a fantastic playground." Diamond Beach proves to be about as exciting as their new trailer when the Bradshaws find things have changed - a lot - since Holly was a kid. The only spot they could afford is miles away from the beach and the campers are packed in like sardines. There are lines at the bathroom, lines at the playground and mobs of "yelling, squabbling children" running rampant. The two park the trailer and begin the long walk to the ocean almost right away. Things brighten a bit when Holly is spotted by her old Diamond Beach friend Coco, just as they are passing the fancy trailers belonging to the wealthiest campers who can afford a spot on the beachfront. It turns out Coco, a cat lover, has married Sterling Huckstepp of Huckstepp electronics and is living in luxury along with his children from a previous marriage, Newton and Edison, and a prototype robot butler named Prot. Sterling is happy to lead the life of a slightly mad inventor and happy to have Coco live the life of leisure. Holly and Coco start up like the never left off, immediately dishing about Jake Borazio, the cute fellow childhood camper who disappeared one summer. With Newt spending all her time on the phone, Marcus befriends the younger Edison and tells him that he thinks his trailer is haunted by the old lady who owned it. Immediately intrigued, Edison insists that Jake show him the trailer. Instead of the body of the old lady, the two find a dark, dank cellar under the trailer when they lift up one of the bench seats.
Stumbling into this underworld, the two find a corridor lined with doors and Edison impulsively yanks one open to find a "vivid, sunlit amusement park" that seems to be empty of visitors. Marcus is suspicious right away, but Edison is entranced and runs off. Marcus' skepticism and expression of anything less than happiness with his situation seems to set off an alarm for the "guardians" of this place, the stuffed animals that are prizes for winning the carnival games. Marcus is shoved out of the room and finds himself in the cellar, running for help. Not wanting to worry the parents just yet, Marcus grabs Newt's phone as a way to get her to help and loses her to another door. This one leads to the most amazing party ever, with all her friends and even some celebrities in attendance. Again, Marcus finds himself ejected when he is less than happy with the situation. Next Coco is lost to the Crystal Hibiscus Spa where she is attended to by giant, human-like cats. Finally, Sterling, Holly and Prot are called upon for help and the story really starts to take off.
Once Holly, Sterling, Prot and Marcus are all in the cellar they have to figure out how to rescue Coco, Newt and Edison, realizing that the doors in the corridor open only to the dream holiday of the person who opened it. Since none of them has dreamed of going to a spa, dance party or amusement park their chances of getting the right doors open are slim and, once in their dream holidays, it is unlikely that Coco, Newt and Edison will ever want to or be able to leave. However, Marcus has a healthy sense of apprehension and an acute sense the layout and action in a video game and is the most suited to figuring a way out of this dire situation. Also, Marcus seems to be the most willing to accept that there is magic at work, which proves to be vital. Once he figures out that Prot, a robot with no wishes, can open doors, the game changes - a bit. An elevator trip to a dusty old travel agent's office reveals brochures to all the dream vacations of everyone who has ever been lured into this Paradise Trap. While working on a strategy, Coco and Holly notice a brochure for Diamond Beach with a picture of Jake on it. Convinced he must be here too, they insist on rescuing him. How they do this and what they learn from Jake is both chilling and opportune. It seems that Jake has trapped Miss Molpe, the old lady who owned the trailer that Holly bought, the same old lady who spent summers at Diamond Beach and befriended the children who vacationed there, in a suit case. And Miss Molpe is actually a siren. While Jake has a basic grasp of what a siren is, it is Newt who provides most of the important information as a popular band she follows is called the Sirens, with each female band member adopting the name of one of the sirens from Greek mythology.
The final third of the book is taken up with the epic struggle that the adults, kids and robot wage against the siren in their efforts to escape her magical trap. Doors that open onto paradise turn into doors that lead to nightmares that include a sinking cruise ship (this is where Marcus' knowledge of video games, specifically Cruising for a Bruising, which is played out on a cruise ship, come into play) and an airport where there is no food to be found anywhere and everyone is hungry and cranky. The challenges and dangers seem never ending, but that's all right because Jink's imagination is also never ending and her writing brings the setting vividly to life. Readers who enjoyed The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu, both of which are series, will definitely gobble up The Paradise Trap.
The great cover art is by Scott Altman.