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In this page- turner, Griffith weaves a suspense- action thriller centered on coming of age in a tangled web of romance, mystery, and chaos in the Amazon.
When 22-year-old aspiring journalist, Emma Cohen, is forced to flee the comforts of her NYU student life, she maneuvers an internship from her father at his newspaper in Rio de Janeiro. There, Emma is immediately swept into a major news story--and a life-threatening situation--when a famous jungle environmentalist, Milton Silva, is mysteriously murdered.
Emma must now enter the Amazon rainforest with her father to investigate; both awed by the enormity and beauty of the Amazon, and appalled by its reckless destruction. Not only will Emma have to brave the primal world of the Amazon, she must fight to survive the kidnappers, villains, corrupt activists, and indigenous tribes that lay in wait along the ever-twisting trail of the murder case. Stretched to the brink, it’s up to Emma, her father and the dreamy news photographer, Jimmy, to unravel the mystery and live to tell the tale.
Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith is a spectacular debut Young Adult novel. Griffith's powerful rendering of the Amazon rainforest forms the perfect, wildly exotic backdrop for this extraordinary tale of a young urban woman coming of age in the midst of intense conflict.
New Adult: Romance/Fiction
“Don’t leave me.”
Milton peered out the open window into the darkness. It was impossible to see who or what lurked in the jungle outside. The fear in his young wife’s body was palpable as she wound her arms around his neck. For the first time in his life, Milton wished he were under the bright lights of a big city. There, your enemies had to look you in the face. Here, they hid behind the mask of the Amazon. Milton swallowed hard, a frightened child in a man’s body, scared to leave the safety of home. If he weren’t careful, he would allow his enemies to destroy his soul. He needed to take his life back.
“It’s just a game of cards with Ronaldo,” he said to his wife, Iara. His voice was soft but steady. “A man can’t stay home all the time.”
Milton knew what his stalkers wanted. Like jaguars on his tail, watching his every move, they were poised to pounce. They wanted to kill him at a moment when no one else was around to witness the attack, when there was no chance of a stray bullet hitting an unwanted target. They wanted not just a murder, but a clean murder. Milton refused to give them that. He had told his contacts in the press about the death threats. If his enemies killed him now, they would run the risk of being found out. His enemies would wait until the outside world became distracted by other things, Milton told himself.
“We need to go away for a while,” Iara urged. “Somewhere safe.”
“We’d be playing into their hands,” Milton protested. “We’d only come back to the smell of burned trees.”
“Let them burn!” Iara pulled her arms from around Milton’s neck and stepped back, eyes flashing.
“You don’t mean that. This is our home.”
“Home? Mato!” Iara said, using the derogatory Portuguese term for the wilderness. She waved her hand dismissively. Milton winced at the expression as if his wife had hit him.
“If I don’t stand up for this mato, in a few years there will be nothing here but mines and cattle ranches. Once the forest is gone, nothing will bring it back. You know that.”
Iara lowered her eyes. “Why does it have to be you?”
“People listen to me. They trust me.”
“And what is in it for us? There are people out there who want to kill you. And we have nothing. We’re just as poor as we ever were, taking our showers outside with the spider monkeys looking down on us. We have to think of our children.” She gestured towards the open door of a bedroom, where their toddler twins lay side by side on a mattress on the floor. Young Pedro stirred, and Milton wondered what he was dreaming about. On a rickety table by the side of the bed sat the whistle Milton had made for him out of palm fronds that morning.
“I’m fighting for their future too,” Milton said. “For their home.”
“You are their future!”
“What do you want from me, Iara?” Milton sighed, tired of the argument.
“I want you to stay alive. You could take that job in Brasilia.”
“I already told them I didn’t want the job. Can you imagine me behind a desk in a city? It would be like a slow death.” Iara had never been to the capital city, but Milton had. To him, the sleek concrete buildings there seemed to have been designed by aliens from outer space. He would feel as much at home there as he would on Mars. People in the city lived life differently. No matter how many times Milton took a marble-surrounded bath in a fancy hotel, he would never belong to their world. And neither would Iara, although she didn’t seem to realize that. They both belonged here, in the Amazon. It was bad enough that he had been forced to move to the outer edge of Boa Vista so that he could more easily organize his environmental protests. At least the jungle remained close enough that he could feel its rhythms. The forest was his addiction. He couldn’t abandon it entirely. “Let’s not talk about leaving again, Iara,” he said in a conciliatory tone.
A tear ran down Iara’s face. “I don’t want to lose you,” she said.
Milton wiped the moisture from her smooth brown cheek. She had been just sixteen when they had fallen in love and had already been through too much for someone so young. “Nothing will happen to me – not tonight, anyway. I’ll climb out the back window and go through the woods. That way, I’ll get around anyone who might be watching. Let’s turn out the lights and pretend we’ve gone to bed.”
Iara reluctantly went along with the plan, extinguishing first the kitchen, then the bedroom light. Electricity still amazed her. There was none in the deep jungle, where she had grown up. Things had changed after her marriage to Milton. His fame offered glimpses of the world beyond. People from far away sent them gifts. For his birthday this year, Milton had received a package from Rio de Janeiro. Inside were four huge towels in different colors. They were so big and fluffy, Iara at first mistook them for blankets. She liked one in particular. It had a picture of the sun on it, and water. Milton said it was not a river, but the ocean, whose water tasted like salt. Iara had never tasted the ocean. She wanted to. As much as she loved her home, she craved new sights, new experiences. Experiences that didn’t come with death threats.
It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the dark. Once they did, Milton approached his wife’s silhouette. He took her in his arms, rocking her for a few moments as if she were a baby. Then he kissed her on the forehead. “
It will all be okay,” he whispered. “You’ll see.” Before she could protest, he stepped to the bedroom window at the back of the house and swung his leg over the sill. Like most dwellings near the river, their house was built on stilts. Milton kept a firm grip as he lowered himself to the ground. When he was close enough, he let go and dropped down silently, his impact softened by the damp earth of the rainy season.
Iara’s good cooking had given him a slight paunch, but Milton remained agile. He slipped as easily as an anaconda into the night. A year earlier, he had cleared a path through the forest to make the walk to Ronaldo’s house easier. Now, the vegetation had almost obliterated the trail. In the Amazon, the rapid growth and death of plants was a constant reminder of passing time. Nowhere else on earth generated the same sense of urgency.
As Milton entered the forest, a chorus of insects and frogs sang out its welcome. He kept to the overgrown path, lit only by the glowing eyes of spiders. He didn’t need a flashlight. Sometimes he thought he could find his way through the forest even if he were blind. A dog howled in the distance. Milton walked on, listening for the sound of someone on his tail. Nothing. When he saw the lights of Ronaldo’s place, his fear ebbed, and his pace quickened. As he stepped out of the woods, a whiff of tobacco put him on the alert once more. Some twenty yards away, to his right, he saw the soft glow of a cigarette. The glow fell to the ground and was extinguished.
“Hello?” Milton whispered. No answer. It must be Rita, Milton thought. He had caught Ronaldo’s eighteen-year-old daughter before, smoking in secret along the path. Well, if she wanted to hide her cigarettes from her father it was nothing to do with Milton. Moving into the clearing, he picked up a pebble and threw it at the windowpane of Ronaldo’s house. His friend would hear it and let him in. The less attention Milton attracted, the safer for everyone.
A door opened, and Ronaldo formed a silhouette against the light in the entryway. Milton smiled. Soon he would be sitting comfortably at a table inside. He wanted to tell Ronaldo about the wildlife smuggling ring he was closing in on. They were a slippery group. His friend might have some ideas about how to root them out of the forest. As Milton stepped towards the house, he heard a soft shuffling from the direction of the cigarette, like someone walking on wet leaves. He glanced in the direction of the sound. Then, there was a loud crack, and his abdomen and legs went numb. The pain burned into his heart. His hand sought to damn up the warm river that suddenly flowed from his chest, but within seconds, it was covered with blood. Milton willed himself to move, but his body was too heavy, his spirit too light. At the edge of the rainforest, Milton Silva collapsed. A lone potoo bird wailed out the news of his tragic death.
About Victoria Griffith:
Victoria Griffith is the author of the award winning non-fiction picture book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont (Abrams, 2011), which won numerous awards, including the prestigious Parents’ Choice. The book was recently translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market and was also released in audio book version.
Before becoming a full-time author, Victoria spent twenty years as an international journalist, fifteen of those years as foreign correspondent for the UK’s Financial Times. During that time, she had fun writing on a wide range of topics, including Brazil’s Yanomami Indians, architecture, space exploration, the human genome, and the growth of the Internet. She even managed to fit in some children’s book reviews. Her most terrifying assignment was preparing lunch for Julia Child, who praised the Brazilian fish stew but refused to touch the blackberry dessert. Victoria lives in Boston with her husband and three daughters.
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