Thirteen-year-old Emma Murry has three goals for summer vacation: finish her art terms project, land an ollie, and help the environmental club save the monarchs. But then her Instagram crush Jeb Scott and his celebrity dad Chester make a surprise visit to Black Mountain. At first, Emma is thrilled, then she overhears their plans to destroy the monarch butterfly garden to build a ski resort. She and her best friend Sophie add a new summer goal: STOP. THE. SCOTTS.
But Emma ignores Sophie's warnings and makes friends with Jeb, convinced she change his mind. Then when Chester receives a mysterious death threat, Emma teams up with Jeb to investigate. She slowly discovers people are not what they seem as she tries to untangle friendships, organize a protest, and uncover supernatural secrets hiding on the mountain. Emma will have to go through her own metamorphosis by overcoming her fears and facing what she dreads. If she fails, she could jeopardize everything—butterflies, friendships, and her family.
Writing teenagers who sound like teenagers is hard, but Laxton, drawing on her teaching experience, achieves this with aplomb. It’s easy to cringe along with Emma when she gets tongue-tied in front of her crush, worries if she’s a good enough friend, or faces her nerves over public speaking. She’s alive on the page, as is Black Mountain itself, painted in vivid detail like local soda names and a raucous town hall meeting. Less compelling is the local werewolf, who, despite some moments of convincing suspense, never proves as engaging as the depiction of a battle involving zoning laws, bite-sized celebrity environmentalism, and the real plight facing those butterflies.
As the title suggests, themes of change form the heart of the book, and any metamorphosis is going to be a bit messy. But the supernatural mystery, which involves elements of Aztec culture, and the vibrant coming-of-age drama seem at odds, with everyday passages about friendships, skateboarding, and Emma’s art journal proving the novel’s most urgent. While the narrative may at times be muddied, the richness of Black Mountain is more than worth stopping and taking a closer look.
Takeaway: An engaging novel of youthful activism, friendship, and a small town’s werewolf.
Comparable Titles: Celia C. Perez’s Strange Birds, David A. Adler’s Cam Jansen mysteries.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
"A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast."