Panama by Shelby Hiatt

Thursday, November 5, 2009

At fifteen, a girl moves from a small town in Ohio to Panama while her father takes part in building the Panama Canal. This trip comes just at the right time for her. She yearns to see more of the world than her small mid-western town has to offer. She wants to meet new people. Visit exciting places. Panama with its lush rainforests and myriad of people is the perfect place for her desires to be fulfilled. Then she meets Frederico, a Spanish aristocrat who is working as a digger, one of the masses who toils daily in the heat and the dust and the danger of the canal. He embodies everything she's looking for: he's exotic, exciting, intelligent and pushes her beyond the limits her sequestered life has set for her. They begin a romance and he awakens her body as well as her soul.

Panama was a very well-written, intriguing story about an American girl (whose name is never revealed, and though I expected this to bother me, it didn't) living in the early 1900s, and her life in Panama where her father is working on the building of the Panama Canal. Before moving to Panama, she lives in Dayton, Ohio next door to the Wright brothers, and I found that early part of the story especially interesting. The heroine of Panama is different from other kids her age, and seeks adventure - through this she meets Federico, who she quickly becomes infatuated with. The jungle of Panama makes a great backdrop to the story.

I didn't like Federico, purely because he's in his mid-twenties when his affair with the heroine of Panama occurs, and she's seventeen. Twenty shades of wrong, that is. Honestly it didn't seem as if they had any kind of intellectual bond (he's intelligent and troubled, she just wants to please him) which I think may have excused at least part of the wrongness. The female protagonist of this novel has a crush on him, which is perfectly fine. I'd've preferred she transition into being an adult without having to have sex with a Spaniard far older than her, but that's just my personal preference.

That aside, it was actually a really well-written novel, and one which I think should be marketed more as an historical romance, suitable more for adult readers than teenagers. Though the heroine's infatuation with Federico seems somewhat childish, a lot of her other thought-processes make her seem more mature (she seemed to think more about things that would concern adults, rather than things that would have concerned a teenage girl, though that might have been just to make her sound more like a girl living in the early 1900s).

Very evocatively written descriptions of Panama and the jungle, as well as a lot of interesting dialogue about class and society in America, Panama and Spain in the early 1900s, Panama will certainly appeal to readers of historical romance of all ages.

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