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“If you’re out to win at any cost, you may find the price is higher than you ever expected to pay,” the Academy president. –The Star Dunes
The Star Dunes
Explorer Academy #4
by Trudi Trueit
AR Test, Diverse Characters
A major discovery forces the Explorer Academy into the limelight in The Star Dunes, but Cruz has much more on his mind than fifteen minutes of fame. A new face on board the ship makes Cruz’s worlds collide. On route to Africa, Team Cousteau is now down a major player, and Cruz can’t help but be preoccupied by the hole in his life. The discovery of his mom’s next clue leads him to the most exotic location yet – a vast desert. With no other information to lead the way, an unlikely ally helps Cruz pursue another piece of the puzzle. Then just as things seem like they might turn out alright, Dr. Fanchon Quills has a technological breakthrough that gives Cruz a glimpse into the past and reveals more about his future than he really may want to know.
In this adventure, Cruz and several other explorers go to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where they learn about how humans have put gorillas in danger. “Habitat loss, war, hunting, disease—they have reduced the entire population of mountain gorillas to two protected areas.” The mission also allows the students to learn about African elephants that are endangered because of. Through the explorers’ experiences, readers will learn about the animals’ loss of habitat and about conservation efforts.
Cruz’s quest to follow his mother’s clues and find the formula for a lifesaving drug is admirable. However, his single-minded focus and risky behavior continually puts others in danger. In addition, readers may find it difficult to understand Cruz’s unwillingness to be honest about Nebula’s attempt to end his life. Even though Nebula kidnapped Cruz’s father and poisoned Cruz’s friend, Cruz still keeps secrets that could help keep himself and others safe. To make matters worse, none of the adults punish Cruz for repeatedly sneaking off to search for clues. Instead, the adults only focus on Cruz’s positive attributes despite his bad behavior.
While The Star Dunes is action-packed and the mystery intensifies, this installment of Explorer Academy has many events that are difficult to believe. Nebula has shown that they are smart enough to infiltrate the Academy and repeatedly get access to Cruz’s room, which makes their inability to capture or kill him implausible. In addition, the Academy faculty continually choose Cruz for missions over the other explorers which is unbelievable, especially since Cruz continually breaks the rules.
Despite The Star Dunes flaws, Cruz’s fast-paced adventure allows readers to experience other cultures as they learn about the importance of wildlife conservation. The well-written story includes illustrations that appear every two to twelve pages. Many of the illustrations are a mix of photographs and drawings, which gives the pictures a touch of realism. The story will appeal to many readers because it includes a diverse cast, interesting technology, and teaches about wildlife. The Star Dunes concludes with Cruz reading a cryptic letter from his mother that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Tiger’s Nest.
- Before leaving for a mission, Bryndis goes to tell Cruz goodbye. “Cruz found himself looking into her eyes. . . He felt cool lips brush his cheek, and then she was scurrying back down the hall in her polar bear slippers.”
- While following his mother’s clue, Cruz takes a self-driving car. While on a deserted road, another truck hits them. “They were accelerating, but so was the truck behind them. Cruz could only dig his fingernails into his seat and watch the speedometer rise. . . Suddenly, everything was a blur. Cruz saw white lights and red dust and Dugan’s face and white lights and red rocks and Dugan’s face. . .” After Cruz’s car crashes, the truck takes off. The scene is described over three pages.
- While in the desert, two men chase Cruz and Dugan. “Cruz felt a jerk. Someone had a hold of his pack. He tried to pull away but couldn’t. . . Suddenly, his feet were out from under him. He was on his stomach being dragged backward. Cruz was trying not to choke on sand. . .” Both Cruz and Dugan escape.
- While on a mission, Cruz and his team see poachers aiming at a pangolin and its pangopups. Cruz “could see the hunter bring the weapon to his shoulder. . . The hunter was lining up the animal in his scope. . .” Cruz orders his mechanical bee, Mell, to attack. Then “the hunters were running in circles, wildly swatting the air around them. . . Mell was still stinging, zipping this way and that to strike her targets. Cruz sprayed the hunters with his octopod. Both cried out, fell to their knees, and threw their hands over their eyes.” The poachers are arrested.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Someone put a deadly toxin in Cruz’s duffle bag, but it was “Bryndis [who] was exposed to the deadly toxin. The poison was absorbed through her skin.” Bryndis is given an antidote, but she is still extremely sick.
- Darn is used once.
- After a truck knocks them off the road, Dugan says, “Nothing like some idiot who thinks it’s funny to go around frightening people.”