Book Review: Every Hidden Thing
By: Kenneth Oppel
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Page Count: 368
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
I loved Kenneth Oppel's Victor Frankenstein series, so I was thrilled to hear about this novel. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, but my knowledge of early paleontology is limited. I always love reading about people, places, and time periods that can teach me something new and inspire me to do my own research. Every Hidden Thing certainly delivers on that front as I now have an insatiable desire to learn more about "The Bone Wars", which provided inspiration for the novel. Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh were the real men who inspired the characters of Professor Bolt and Professor Cartland in the novel. These real historical figures and their fictional counterparts were constantly in competition. These men were ruthless and countless fossils were destroyed in the process as the both struggled to outdo the other.
Oppel has channeled the feud between Cope and Marsh to craft a Romeo and Juliet style story littered with the bones of dinosaurs. Professor Bolt has a teenage son, Samuel, who is rash and fiery. Samuel loves helping his father hunt for bones and has an uncanny ability to assemble skeletons. A tooth sent from the Badlands causes Samuel to crave finding the remains of the largest predator he can imagine. He and his father manage to scrap together enough funds to mount an expedition to find their Rex, but little do they know that Professor Cartland and his teenage daughter, Rachel, are after the same fossils. A train ride throws all the characters together and it soon becomes clear that the competition will heat up as both teams rush to find the Rex.
As you might expect, Samuel and Rachel form a connection along this journey that blossoms into much more. Samuel finds himself attracted to Rachel's brilliant mind and capable excavation skills. He finds her a breath of fresh air compared to the girls he's known in the past. He is thrilled by her intelligence and finds himself craving moments alone with her. Rachel, on the other hand, isn't so sure that Samuel's attentions are genuine. She knows that he could be nothing more than a pawn for his father sent to spy on her father's operations. She approaches her friendship with Samuel with more trepidation than he exhibits, but soon realizes that Samuel truly wants to be her partner in their paleontology work rather than an enemy. Samuel, in many ways, reminds me of a golden retriever, while Rachel is most certainly a cat. Their personalities work well together in spite of their differences and its easy to see why they gravitate towards one another. Their relationship must be kept secret as both fathers would be livid if they knew of the assignations between the pair.
As the novel progresses, Samuel and Rachel begin to assert their independence and break away from their fathers. This seemed more difficult for Rachel as she was not only defying her father's expectations but also society's gender norms. As a young girl in the late 1800's, Rachel should have been preparing to become a wife to a man from a wealthy, respectable family. Her dreams of going to university and becoming a paleontologist would blow away with the wind as she spent her days tending to the home and children and her evenings attending various social functions to further the career of her husband. I could not imagine Rachel living such a life. Her choices concerning Samuel may be unconventional, but I felt like they were the best ones she could have made given the circumstances.
In addition to the paleontology and relationships, I was fascinated by the Native American component. It was intriguing to read about how the Natives, particularly the Sioux, viewed the dinosaur fossils. They had their own specific lore surrounding the bones. As you would expect, the Native tribes were less than thrilled with the scientists being on their land. These is also one scene in the novel where some Sioux bodies are desecrated that broke my heart and had me outraged. I cannot believe people would do such horrible things. I felt this segment of the novel, while focused in the past, is all too eerily connected to the present, as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is in the middle of their protest against the oil pipeline in North Dakota.
All in all, I adored this novel. It had everything I crave in a good read: history, romance, a strong female character, sense of place, and beautiful use of language. I am eager to learn more about the historical inspirations behind this tale and have added visiting the Badlands to my bucket list.
One Last Gripe: I want another novel! This one ends with resolution, but I want to know more about what's next for Samuel and Rachel.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved learning about the fossil excavation process.
First Sentence: He walked the Badlands for two days without food or water.
Favorite Character: Rachel
Least Favorite Characters: Professor Cartland and Professor Bolt - their selfishness infuriated me
Somewhere in the Badlands, buried in millennia of rock and sand, lie the bones of a massive dinosaur—a Rex. Discovering it would be the greatest fossil find of the nineteenth century. Samuel Bolt needs to be the one to do it.
Rachel Cartland wants the exact same thing, for herself.
The Bolts. The Cartlands. Rival families of fossil hunters, alike in their hatred of one another and their dream of finding the Rex. As both set off into a treacherous landscape searching for the glory of the first American dinosaurs, their paths cross. Amid danger and mystery, the competition between their fathers intensifies. But Rachel and Samuel also find themselves pushed closer together.
What if they joined forces? Could they find a new life together among the ruins of a lost world?
Or will old enmities keep them from both the Rex and each other?