Panama by Shelby Hiatt (Published by Houghton Mifflin, September 28, 2009)
A fifteen-year-old girl living in Ohio in the early twentieth century is excited when she learns her family will move to Panama, where her father will have a job helping to build the Panama Canal. She hopes for an exotic and exciting adventure, but is disappointed when she finds that her new home is the Zone, which the Americans have made into a town just like those back home.
While visiting a building site for the canal, she meets the intriguing Federico, a young man who seems far too cultured to be an ordinary canal worker. He is sophisticated and loves books - just what she has been looking for. She begins a love affair with him which transitions her from childhood to adulthood, although in the end she finds herself more emotionally invested and heartbroken than she had intended.
I was intrigued by the description of this book because I had never read a book about the building of the Panama Canal and I am always on the lookout for unusual historical fiction. But ultimately I was rather disappointed by this book. There were some historical errors, and I was rather unsettled by the sexual relationship between the fifteen-year-old narrator and the much older Federico. Also, and this is more of a personal pet peeve, I was really annoyed that the narrator’s name is never revealed. Overall I wouldn’t really recommend this book, although it might have some appeal to readers particularly interested in the historical setting.