In this young adult thriller, a group of teens are saved when they come across a mysterious oasis. But who will save them from the oasis?
Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archeological dig site in the desert with four close friends … and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.
Their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed … until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, and shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.
The answers turn Alif and her friends against each other, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave …
**** Huge thank you to Imprint Macmillan for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review ****
Trigger Warnings: Death (A bit gruesome), Mentions of Bullying and Racism, Dehydration, Physical and Verbal Fighting
I went into this pretty excited, I mean the whole premise for the book sounded amazing: an archaeological dig, a storm that leaves the characters stranded in the desert, and a strange oasis with ancient ruins. Sounds right up my alley especially since I love anything dealing with ancient ruins or archaeology in general. However, I just wasn’t very blown away with this one. It kind of failed to deliver on all of those fronts and what I thought was going to be a fun adventure with some creepy horror elements mixed in just ended up being a confusing jumble.
Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t a complete mess by any means, it just wasn’t what I was expecting and I was a bit let down by it.
The story starts off with our main character, Alif, and her friends heading to the outskirts of Dubai to her father’s archaeological dig site where they’re going to spend the summer. The story is told from Alif’s POV and while I understand she’s a teenager, her voice felt a little immature at times. Actually ALL of her friends seemed pretty immature as well. All they cared about was hooking up with each other, relationships, drama, etc etc. Even Alif was after her father’s research assistant the whole time. It just felt a little odd that this was all that was on anyone’s mind when they were on a really cool dig site in a foreign country. There wasn’t anything you found exciting about that?! Come on people.
I digress. The only reason I didn’t DNF this right away was because I was waiting for what the story promised me: oasis, strange happenings, ancient ruins. I also thought that the writing was pretty good and pulled me along, the pacing was consistent. Things did begin to get a little more exciting when they finally arrived in the oasis. However, this is also where it all kind of went downhill for me at the same time.
Everything that happened after they enter the oasis just got really confusing. I kept expecting there to be more of an explanation by the end of the story but I never got one. Actually the ending felt very open to me but I also kind of felt like I got screwed out of an ending because there wasn’t even a bit of explanation for what I just read. I REALLY want to tell you guys why but I can’t even begin to explain without spoiling the story. Things just got weird and complicated, I’ll leave it at that.
Overall I was expecting the plot to be very different from what it ended up being. However, I honestly think the story is very unique and it isn’t like anything else I’ve read or even heard of. So points for that. And as I already kind of mentioned the pacing was consistent and I did enjoy the writing, I just didn’t like being confusing wondering: “what the hell is going on?” the entire second half of the book.
I’m not really sure what to say about the characters, I did like Alif who is the main protagonist and she’s also a diverse character being half-white (German) and half-Jordanian (she has a darker complexion). The only other diverse character we have is Minh who is of Asian descent. But all of the characters are Australian.
Alif was one of the more reasonable characters, considering there were a few times the group didn’t make great decisions especially since they needed to survive out in the desert. I liked that she was very passionate about archaeology and actually wanted to participate in the dig and I didn’t mind reading from her POV. However, she was very focused on her crush Tommy, her father’s research assistant. I just felt that being stranded in the desert would sort of take your mind off of that a little bit. No time to be embarrassed about silly things when you’re fighting to survive, girl!
I don’t have much of an opinion on the other characters either, they weren’t very fleshed out and just felt like walking, talking tropes. I really could have cared less about them. When their backstories or past were mentioned it was essentially just an info dump and it offered nothing for the story and didn’t really affect my view on any of them either.
My biggest pet peeve was the aforementioned characters not caring about the archaeological dig they were supposed to be on for the summer. They were all of Alif’s friends and were all allowed to join this dig in Dubai, that’s a pretty neat thing in my opinion. But honestly all they seemed to care about was leaving the dig site to party. That just kind of got on my nerves.
What do you call it when you have six characters that are all interested in one or the other? A love hexagon? Like a love triangle but there’s six characters? I’m going with love hexagon.
So I am not a fan of the love triangle, whatsoever. I think most of the time it makes things more convoluted than they need to be. And this book had six different characters that were all interested in one or the other. I would try and explain it but that would spoil it and also take a lot of time. It’s…..a lot. I honestly thought there was way too much romantic drama happening in this book especially considering it’s essentially about surviving. Alif’s crush on Tommy was about the only romantic aspect that didn’t completely irritate me but I wasn’t really crazy about it either.
What I Loved:
- The setting: archeological dig site and desert
- Writing was good and engaging
- Pacing was even and consistent
- Unique plot
- Some diverse characters
- Alif and her POV
What I Didn’t Love:
- Alif’s friend group (the main side characters)
- All said friends caring more about partying than about the really neat dig site they were lucky enough to be on
- Love hexagon (aka the super convoluted romantic subplot)
- The open ending
- The second half of the book being super confusing plot-wise
- Nothing being explained
Overall I’m going with a three star rating because I did enjoy the premise and thought it was very unique even though the execution wasn’t what I expected. The writing was good enough and the pacing wasn’t slow. However, I just could not get past how irritating the secondary characters could be and the fact that the story got SO FREAKING CONFUSING at the end! I’m still really looking forward to Katya de Becerra’s other book “What the Woods Keep” but maybe I’ll go in with different expectations.
If you can get past all of the things I thought were negative I would say definitely read it, it’s a very unique story. However, if you were like me and thinking you were going to get a desert adventure or something creepy/horror-y I would give it a pass.