Format: Paperback ARC
Publisher: Kinkajou Press
Number of pages: 260
Publishing: March 2nd, 2021
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher after request sent by author
Opening Lines: "I'm a goddess. Flora loved saying those words."
Flora is a packrat who enjoys venturing out each day for a quick sampling of her favorite prickly pear cactus pads. Like most packrats, Flora mostly keeps to herself, only stopping when she receives "the warning" from her cousin Gertrude. Every packrat receives the warning to "remember and beware of the dreaded cliff." Yet, no one can recall what exactly they're to be careful of. Just thinking about the dreaded cliff causes Flora's stomach to do backflips. All that changes following a chance encounter with Grandma Mimi, who imparts that the dreaded cliff was once the packrats ancestral home, a special place, until an invader took it over. Confused by this new information, Flora returns to her home, tucked below the jangly crate and proceeds to fall asleep. Shortly thereafter, she awakens to find that she is in a new place, separated from the rest of the packrats.
Timid and slightly afraid of her new surroundings, she is encouraged when she meets Cyrus the kangaroo rat king, a stuttering porcupine named Paco and Dayana the ventriloquist rabbit. Each of the animals changes Flora's outlook on her previous life near the cliffs and instills her with hope that she can brave it out in her new surroundings. Flora also develops the confidence to deal with the harsh realities and dangers of living in the wild, even outsmarting a badger and owl. The Dreaded Cliff exposes children to the wildlife of the southwest, including pinon pines, prickly pear cactuses and even the harsher elements, for example when Flora witnesses the death of a dear friend following a predator attack on their small community. Flora however is not easily dissuaded and is instead even more resolved to follow her destiny to return to her ancestral home and rid it of the dangers lurking inside.
Terry Nichols is a retired National Park Service ranger with thirty years of experience writing trail guides, brochures and articles about wildlife. Currently she lives in Aztec, New Mexico and The Dreaded Cliff is her debut novel, inspired by her own experiences with a packrat who stowed away in her 1979 Volkswagen as she was travelling across country on a camping trip. Her knowledge of the southwest is evident in her writing, making it easy to visualize the setting. I quite enjoyed reading The Dreaded Cliff and was reminded of Colorado and the time that rats built their nest in the electronics of my parents hot tub. Not only did they pose a problem to the electronics but you had to be really careful in protecting yourself when getting rid of their nests to avoid possible exposure to Hantavirus. Despite the real life hassles with these rodents, Flora is certainly an endearing character and the reader is sympathetic with her yearning to return to her home. I enjoyed how she changed throughout the story, overcoming ever obstacle and danger that came her way. Given Flora's propensity for using a large vocabulary of words, like "lavish and sublime," the story would be best for a more advanced reader and one that can understand the connection between the death of an animal and its relationship to the food chain of nature.
**A special thank you to Terry Nichols and Kinkajou Press for the review copy.**