By Lara Stauffer
Published by Cedar Fort ISBN 9789882909813
Given to me by the publisher via NetGalley
Finding a Lost City
“[A]nd many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate.” (3 Nephi 8:5-7, 12, 14)
First and foremost, this is an LDS YA book. If you aren’t tolerably familiar with the Book of Mormon, or at least with a child’s storybook or video of the Book of Mormon, you will be totally lost. Don’t bother to read any further.
However, if you possess that familiarity, and you are a teenager (male or female), it is likely that you will find this book thoroughly enjoyable. If you are an adult with that familiarity, you are still likely to enjoy Unearthed. I did.
We begin with Matt, who has just graduated from high school. He is furious with the Church and with his father, Ben, because he is a basketball champion and his father, an archaeologist, never bothered to go to any of his games. In retaliation, he has for two years refused to go to Church or any activities. He intends to spend the summer sleeping and goofing off until he goes away to college in the fall. His father will be gone all summer, to a dig in Central America. Right now he needs Matt’s help to load his van with equipment before he takes off. Matt doesn’t want to help him.
On top of that, Taryn Gilley is coming to dinner because she is one of the professor’s students and will be going with him to the dig. Matt has been invited, but he has no intention of going. Taryn gets along with his father better than he does. But she and Matt have been at odds all through school. He considers her weird, and she considers him a bully—a fairly accurate observation, considering that he had very early nicknamed her the Gilley Monster and other students had taken it up.
To be sure, she has never made any attempt to look attractive, being far more interested in her studies (especially her planned career in archaeology) than in her appearance, whereas Matt prefers, and can get because he is a star athlete, pretty girls.
At dinner they talked about Matt’s father’s college roommate, Sam Dyson. Owner of Dyson International Gems, he always funded Ben’s summer digs. This summer they had gotten a dig in Cholula, Mexico and Ben and Taryn were excited because “this time they were smack dab in Book of Mormon lands,” and had new and modern instruments. Since the dig was not funded or sponsored by the college, the students going on the dig were all LDS, and they would observe LDS standards, including not working on Sunday. But Matt had “turned down his father’s invitation to ‘hang out’ in Mexico together. As if that would happen in a million years. His dad’s idea of ‘hanging out’ mostly meant sitting in a dirt hole with as brush and tweezers, poking at rubble while Matt watched, bored out of his mind. No, thank you.”
But late that night Ben gets a phone call from Manny, his team leader in Mexico. A small earthquake has opened a fissure at their dig site, and something is down there, although the leader can’t see what. Taryn then blackmails Matt into going to Mexico for one month, with the promise that she will tutor him in every subject for one year. Considering that he nearly failed one course and almost didn’t graduate from high school, he can’t turn the offer down, and grudgingly agrees to go along.
Matt’s mother, a beautician who works at her house, orders Taryn to show up at six o’clock the next morning, at which time she whisks Taryn off to her shop. The result is a good haircut, eyebrow shaping, and decent makeup, and to Matt’s astonishment, Taryn actually looks as good as the cheerleader he has been dating.
At first he is as bored in Mexico as he had expected to be, but out of sheer boredom he begins to involve himself in the activities of the dig. It turns out that there are two cracks in the ground, out of sight of one another, and one seems much deeper than the other. Ben assigns himself and some of his students to the deeper crack, which has turned into a real fissure, and Manny and the other students to the shallower crack. Once measurements are made and a grid is laid out—Ben sends Matt back to the boys’ barracks while that is going on, assuring him he will find something behind the barracks that will please him (it turns out to be a basketball court)—the digging begins. They are interrupted by the Sabbath, and that evening the other students arrive. To Matt’s astonishment, one of the adults—the team leader of the boys’ barracks—turns out to be a Superbowl quarterback who had retired early to teach linguistics at BYU. And there is Jenna, a beautiful blonde. . . .
They soon are able to get into the larger crack, and find that there is a buried well, with an unbroken water jug near it and a path that they hopefully follow until they are stopped by an ancient rockfall that prevents further exploration. Taryn, who is the smallest and lightest of the students, is convinced that she can get past it, but Ben forbids her to try. That night, Matt catches her slipping out with a flashlight, and goes with her because he can’t get her to return.
The modern story is interspersed with a story from two thousand years earlier. The father of the family has just been called to be chief judge, after the Gadianton robbers murdered the previous chief judge of the city as they had murdered every other chief judge for many years. When he is threatened with murder, his son goes undercover and joins the local Gadianton band. Then they have to escape in a hurry. To say more of this would be to create a spoiler.
And to say more of what happened to Matt and Taryn also would create a spoiler.
This book is not perfect. It has some uneven writing, which got on my nerves, and the story from 2000 years ago could have been worked on some more. But I am a writing teacher and an editor, and it is probable that I notice more of this kind of thing than most people do. I suggest that if you are in the intended audience, you read the book for yourself and see what you think of it. If you are not in the intended audience, but you are interested in Central American archaeology, that you call the missionaries and ask them questions and then read the book.
Don’t blame me if you find yourself becoming LDS.