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Young Adult Fiction General

Undiscovered Country

by (author) Jennifer Gold

Publisher
Second Story Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2017
Category
General, Caribbean & Latin America, War & Military, Death & Dying
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781772600315
    Publish Date
    Apr 2017
    List Price
    $12.95
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9781772600322
    Publish Date
    Apr 2017
    List Price
    $8.99

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 13 to 17
  • Grade: 8 to 12
  • Reading age: 13 to 17

Description

Cat’s life is divided. There is the time Before her mom died, and After. Now, everything seems meaningless. Before, Cat was happy and had momentum. After, she feels stuck. And angry. There might be five stages of grief, but Cat can’t get past stage two. She’s so filled with rage, her doctor tries to medicate her. When Cat finds a brochure for a volunteer program that will send her to South America, she grabs it. She's trying to escape from the memories of her mother. But life as a “voluntourist” is not an escape. The new people and places Cat meets bring new perspectives and challenges she never expected.

About the author

Jennifer Gold is a lawyer and mother of two and the author of the YA novels Soldier Doll and Undiscovered Country. A history buff, she also has degrees in psychology, law, and public health. She lives with her family in Toronto.

Jennifer Gold's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
April 1, 2017
Before: Cat’s beloved mother is dying of breast cancer. After: Cat takes a gap year to travel with Students without Borders to Calantes, a tiny, fictional country in South America. Cat can’t really explain why she’s embarked on this uncharacteristically adventurous journey, leaving her grief-stricken father alone. Maybe she needs something more vital than antidepressants to kick-start her broken heart. Alternating chapters tell of the ordeal of caring for a loved one with invincible cancer and of Cat’s adventures in impoverished, war-torn Calantes, where Cat strikes up a camaraderie with fellow SWB volunteers and helps out in a medical clinic. And while the Calantes story is perhaps overstuffed with drama, it’s a worthy complement to the horrifying encroachment of death in Cat’s otherwise ordinary life. At home, for example, Cat is too numb to even consider a prom date, while in Calantes, she falls into a passionate love affair. Gold captures the poignancy of a mother’s death with authenticity, alternating it with an adventure story that grapples with issues similar to those in Robert Hough’s Diego’s Crossing (2015).

Booklist

School Library Journal
March 2017
After losing her mother to cancer, Cat chooses to take a gap year after graduation before starting college at Stanford. She joins the Students Without Borders, which is based in the fictional South American city of Calante. Cat arrives in the aftermath of a civil war and meets fellow volunteers, who have their own reasons for joining the program. This story alternates between the past and the present. The past chapters build up the significance of the volunteer program and give insight into Cat’s frame of mind as she tries to cope with her mother’s illness and the emotions that brought her to the breaking point. The present chapters show the denial and depression that she tries to keep hidden but that slowly rise to the surface. The narrative is at times predictable, with superfluous descriptive dialogue. The protagonist and some secondary characters feel slightly underdeveloped and one-dimensional. Readers will have a difficult time getting fully invested in the novel. VERDICT For fans of Susane Colasanti and Sarah Dessen.

School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
February 1, 2017
After losing her mother to cancer, a teenage girl seeks escape from her grief by joining a volunteer organization in a war-torn South American country. This poignant story is told in alternating chapters labeled simply "Before" and "After." The "Before" chapters tell the story of Cat, a white teen struggling through her senior year, juggling schoolwork, and bit by bit becoming the parent to her parents as her mother is diagnosed with a cancer that will eventually take her life and her father sinks into a paralyzing depression. The "After" chapters take place mostly in Calantes, the titular Amazonian "undiscovered country," where Cat finds that her fellow teen volunteers are, like her, motivated not by altruism but by the need to escape their own demons. In Calantes she also falls in love and awakens to her sexuality. When tragedy strikes, Cat realizes one cannot run away from grief. Gold's characters are believably drawn. The "Before" chapters are particularly powerful. The "After" chapters lose believability in their setting. It is hard to believe an organization sends teens with no particular skills or training to a country where their lives are in danger and where there seem to be no adults in either the town or the volunteer base. In spite of some flaws, this is a sensitive portrayal of the different aspects of grief that will strike a chord with readers. (Fiction. 13-18) 

Kirkus Reviews

Foreword Reviews
March/April Issue
After her mother’s death, Cat decides to defer her admission to Stanford and flee her grief by joining (the amusingly named) Students Without Boundaries and traveling to Calantes, a South American country that has just experienced a civil war. While Cat grows close to a local boy, Rafael, who is dealing with his own grief and ambitions, she also meets others like her who have fled their lives in order to try to find some mix of redemption and achievement.
Written in the first person, Undiscovered Country features a voice that is strong, sharp, and smart. The book alternates between two sections, “Before” and “After,” with “Before” showing glimpses of Cat’s life during her mother’s battle with cancer, and “After” showing Cat’s new adventure in Calantes. While the switches occasionally slow down the pace of the book, they do offer a deeper look into Cat’s relationships and help give life to the grief she is experiencing.
The existence of a student group in a war-torn country—a group that attracts the sort of privileged youth seen in the novel—seems dubious, but the novel builds up to an intriguing moral dilemma. Cat’s own grief mixes with her sense of right and wrong, and what results is a compelling story where Cat must pick apart romantic feelings, ethical obligations, and even her own sanity in order to arrive at a crucial decision.
Undiscovered Country is first and foremost a novel about grief and new beginnings, but it is also a thoughtful coming-of-age tale about finding purpose even in the midst of despair.

Foreword Reviews

Jennifer Gold, author of Soldier Doll, again takes the issue of grief and connections and creates a story of loss, confusion and redemption, with honest characters dealing with realistic challenges.... Undiscovered Country, unlike most of us and most definitely Jennifer Gold's characters, never stumbles, instead exposing different paths of salvation to life's struggles, some safer than others, but all viable and very real.

CanLit for Little Canadians

In this realistically told story, Gold shows how even the best intentions can have negative outcomes... Written for ages 13 and up, this is an emotion-laden novel with detailed descriptions of Cat’s mother’s battle with cancer.

Winnipeg Free Press

Gold captures the poignancy of a mother’s death with authenticity, alternating it with an adventure story...

Booklist

Undiscovered Country is a book that will tug at your heart’s strings from beginning to end. The book is written with a clear voice, well researched, and a perfect read for fans of John Green’s works.

Resource Links

...a sensitive portrayal of the different aspects of grief that will strike a chord with readers.

Kirkus Reviews

Gold's story is carefully crafted with skill and depth... The characters are authentic and vulnerable. Cat is a strong and convincing character that readers will connect with and like from the start.

Children's Books Heal

Gold's strengths are in her ability to pull readers into Cat's worlds with beautiful, and devastating, details and to create a credible protagonist who takes readers to the core of the very real pain of losing someone one loves… a thought-provoking and highly satisfying read.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials

Written in the first person, Undiscovered Country features a voice that is strong, sharp, and smart.... Cat’s own grief mixes with her sense of right and wrong, and what results is a compelling story where Cat must pick apart romantic feelings, ethical obligations, and even her own sanity in order to arrive at a crucial decision. Undiscovered Country is first and foremost a novel about grief and new beginnings, but it is also a thoughtful coming-of-age tale about finding purpose even in the midst of despair.

Foreword Reviews

Readers will be moved by Cat's grief and intensity of her co-dependent romance. Undiscovered Country is a solid read about one teen's need to escape the realities of life and death, come to terms with her grief, and find the strength to carry on.

Quill & Quire

Other titles by Jennifer Gold