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Book Excerpts

Flown into the heart of the Amazon rain forest, a party of travelers has second thoughts

Laura Resau's layered work of juvenile literature combines mysticism, hard truths about the destruction of the rain forest and its Indigenous people -- and chocolate

Laura Resau is the award-winning author of nine highly acclaimed young adult and children’s novels, including “The Lightning Queen (Scholastic), “What the Moon Saw,” “Red Glass,” and the Notebooks series (Delacorte/Random House). Her new novel, “Tree of Dreams,” was praised as “a moving exploration of friendship, activism, and how chocolate makes everything better” in a starred review from Kirkus.

Resau lives with her husband, son, and beagle in Fort Collins, Colorado. She donates a portion of her royalties to Indigenous rights organizations in Latin America.

The following is an excerpt from “Tree of Dreams.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


2020 Colorado Book Award winner for Juvenile Literature.

From above, the Amazon rain forest looks like broccoli. An endless sea of broccoli. Ten minutes into the flight, in all directions are mounds of green florets, each one a treetop. That’s the only way I can wrap my head around how gigantic this place is—comparing it to a side dish on a dinner plate.

Rivers snake through, ribbons of gold lacing through all that green. Here and there is a straight brown line, a road, and brown square clearings and rectangles of gray buildings. “Petroleros,” the pilot shouts over his shoulder, pointing with his chin. Oil drillers. Other than the petroleros, there’s just this broccoli sea beneath us. And the farther in we fly, these naked patches are fewer and farther between.

The pilot is burly and muscled, his chest nearly bursting through his buttoned shirt. Sweat stains the fabric under his arms but he smells only like cologne. In a loud, rough voice, he explains that first the logging companies come and chop down strips of trees to form muddy dirt roads. They make way for the petroleros to set up oil wells and drilling operations. He shakes his head, taps his large fingers on the steering device. “Ten years ago, this was solid jungle, amigos.”

Laura Resau

I can’t see his eyes behind the mirrored lenses, but there’s something sad in his voice, in the shrug of his shoulder.

We fly for another half hour over mounds of thick, rich green. I could never get tired of so much green. I’m gulping it down like a cool glass of water on a hot day. It’s as if my soul sighs between swigs.

The first few minutes of the flight felt like a roller coaster, from the stomach-flipping takeoff to the upward swoop to the leveling off in the clouds. But now I’m used to the vibration and engine rumble and the way the wind tugs us here and there. It feels like cruising in a cozy, old car through the sky, comfortable enough that I can focus on the mind-boggling view out the windows.

Meanwhile, Leo doesn’t even touch his Nintendo. And I wonder if he’s feeling like me: 90 percent mesmerized and 10 percent terrified. Because if this jungle has a heart, that’s where we’re headed, deep into the secret, pulsing core.

“Any Internet or phone service out here?” Mom shouts over the engine roar. There’s a waver in her voice, a shrill edge. I know that voice. It’s when she’s trying to sound casual but is actually on the brink of panic. The hippie sunglasses can only do so much.

He shakes his head slowly. “Nada.”

Nada. Nothing. Which means that if something goes wrong, we’re on our own. Absolutely, completely, and in all ways on our own, adrift inside this broccoli sea. All of a sudden the balance flips to 90 percent terrified and 10 percent mesmerized.

Hands shaky, I unwrap a chamomile-honey truffle and nibble nervously.

“Almost there, amigos,” says the pilot. “Just another few bends up the Shiripuno River.”

Soon the plane slows and swoops and circles, and there, ahead, stretches a strip of grass, a long rectangle of shallow green cutting through denser green. Now the plane is lowering, centering, dropping. My stomach drops along with it, as if I’m whooshing down an elevator. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened tight and clutch my hands together in my lap.

There is no airport, no building, not even one made of bamboo and dried leaves. Not a single road in sight, not even gravel or dirt.

Nada.

We lower, lower, lower, and the pilot flips switches and the engine sounds shift, and then we make a few gentle bounces on the grass strip like a rubber ball slowing to a roll. The brakes engage and we skid to a stop.

I peer through the window. Now that we’re on the ground, the forest no longer looks like broccoli. On all four sides of the airstrip the jungle begins, thickly and greenly. These are no dinky stalks of veggies, but enormous leaves and trees, fit for a land of giants.

“Tree of Dreams” by Laura Resau

The pilot gets out, stretches, then opens the passenger doors for us. Stiffly, I climb out.

And I’m in another world. The air is a blanket of a zillion water droplets, sizzling, steaming, and wrapping around my body. In seconds, I’m sweating, salty rivers gushing down slick skin. Blinking, I grab my hat from my pack. The light is misty but blinding. Sunbeams are zapping around in so many tiny mirror drops.

Leo and the moms are squinting and fumbling for hats, too.

Insects are swarming, but I don’t know where the bug spray is, so I just swat them away. Now that I can see better, I look around from beneath the brim of my hat, turning in a full circle, scanning the jungle for signs of life. And there are plenty—all manner of birds screeching a riot of squawks and caws and chirps and peeps. Bright feathers darting here and there through the green.

But no sign of humans.

My insides are on the wildest amusement park ride ever. One second, my insides are laughing and screaming: I’m in the Amazon! I’m near my treasure! And the next, my gut is falling down a dark pit, crying: We’re all alone! We can’t survive! And the next, I’m reaching for another truffle. Need some endorphins! Now!

In the insulated bag, the chocolate is softening, so I break open another instant cold pack, mashing it with my fingers, then zipper the bag quickly to trap the cool air. With shaky hands, I bite into a nearly melting peanut butter truffle.

The pilot stretches, takes a long sip from his water bottle, then starts climbing back into the cockpit. “Have fun, amigos!”

“Wait!” shrieks Nieves.

He adjusts his large body on the seat, buckles himself in. “Yes, señora?”

“You can’t just leave us here!”

He sighs, offers a sympathetic smile. “Sorry I can’t wait till your hosts meet you, amigos, but I’m behind schedule already. I have a group of petroleros to take to another site before night falls.”

I chew my truffle ferociously.

Nieves widens her eyes, looks at Mom, who is frozen silent. Slowly, Nieves says, “But. We’re. In. The middle. Of nowhere.”

“Just head downriver.” The pilot wipes sweat from his neck with a hankie, points toward the jungle at the edge of the airstrip. “There’s the village, just a few kilometers away.”

“Village?” Nieves asks. “I didn’t see any village from the plane.”

“Well, it’s more like some tiny houses, a few families. They’re expecting you, right?”

Nieves looks at Gali, who’s gazing around as if he’s in a snow globe with freshly shaken snowflakes of wonder floating around him. Hot green jungle snowflakes. He’s in his own world.

Rubbing her temple, Nieves translates for Mom. Now they’re frantically talking in hushed voices. “We have to turn back,” Mom says.

Nieves squints at the misty-bright sky. “Of course we do. We don’t even have a radio or any supplies.” She shoots Gali an icy glare. “What were we thinking, Mara?”

I wipe chocolate from the corners of my mouth. I have no idea what to do. I glance over at Leo.

There’s something protective about the way he’s holding on to Gali’s elbow, steadying him. Gali doesn’t look like a wise old king at the moment, just soggy and woozy. Leo is staring into the jungle. His expression is determined, his jaw fixed in that stubborn way, the way it does when he’s stuck on a hard part in a video game or carving a fragile piece of chocolate.

“Let’s get back in the plane, kids,” Nieves says.

No. No. No. We can’t leave. I can’t go home without my treasure. If I do, soon there will be no home for me at all anymore. And if Gali goes home without fixing things, he’ll die . . . a not-good death, whatever that means.

I stare into the jungle, too, as if the answer lies there. And I see something that makes me catch my breath: a flash of red, yellow, and blue feathers—a parrot flying up from the rounded tip of a tree in the distance, a tree towering above the others, a tree that I know from my dream, from my research, a tree I’d recognize anywhere, even with just the tippety top of it showing. The leaves and flowers have fallen off as they do every dry season, leaving a perfect crown of bare branches.

A ceiba, I’m sure of it. Could this be my dream tree?

“Hold on!” I yell over my shoulder, already running toward the tree. It has to be less than a mile away, and maybe if I just go in a straight line . . .

“Coco!” Mom screams.

I don’t look back, but I’m guessing she’s on my tail.

I try to pick up my pace, but I’m inside the jungle now, and plants are everywhere . . . growing up and down and sideways, sprouting from trunks, dangling from branches. I swipe aside the massive leaves, aiming for a straight line. Which is impossible in this tangle of green.

Here in the shadows, it’s cooler, and the insect sounds are louder now, surrounding me on all sides. Mud squishes beneath my shoes, gives the air a rich, earthy smell. I scan the forest for some kind of path through the ocean of leaves and branches and logs and ferns and vines. The crown of the ceiba is already out of sight, blocked by a layered canopy of other treetops.

I pause, wondering if I should blindly barrel myself in the direction of the ceiba, or give up and go all the way back to Heartbeat Springs and admit defeat.

“Coco!” Mom’s voice comes from behind me.

And then I hear a rustling, see a movement: Someone is peering at me from between palm leaves. I step closer, focus on the human form through the foliage.

It’s a girl, and she looks about my age. She’s wearing a lilac T-shirt and blue shorts, and her hair is long and wavy and tumbling over her shoulders like a dark waterfall. A circular strip of fiber forms a crown around her head. Slung over her shoulder is a bag made of woven fibers. She’s looking at me with curious, cacao brown eyes.

We’re not alone! 

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Read an interview with Laura Resau.

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