When an educational safari goes wrong, five teens find themselves stranded in the Kalahari Desert without a guide. It’s up to Sarah, the daughter of zoologists, to keep them alive and lead them to safety, calling on survival know-how from years of growing up in remote and exotic locales. Battling dehydration, starvation and the pangs of first love, she does her best to hold it together, even as their circumstances grow increasingly desperate.
But soon a terrifying encounter makes Sarah question everything she’s ever known about the natural world. A silver lion, as though made of mercury, makes a vicious, unprovoked attack on the group. After a narrow escape, they uncover the chilling truth behind the lion’s silver sheen: a highly contagious and deadly virus that threatens to ravage the entire area—and eliminate life as they know it.
Kalahari kicks off with five students arriving in the Kalahari Desert as part of an educational program. The main character Sarah has spent her whole life as the daughter of two research scientists, living in exotic locations across the world. She has incredible knowledge of many things, including survival skills in all kind of abnormal situations. Despite that knowledge, she has very little experience with people her own age and is dreading the two weeks they are supposed to spend with the visiting students.
To make things worse, Sarah’s mother died tragically four months ago and she is still in a very difficult place emotionally. When, on the first night the students are there, her father leaves to chase poachers and doesn’t come back, the reader’s heart breaks for Sarah as she begins to think the worst: that she has lost both of her parents and is alone in the wilderness.
From there, Kalahari takes the reader on an incredible adventure across the Kalahari Desert on a search for Sarah’s father. Along the way, they encounter an inexplicably silver lion, a mysterious scientific research compound, and “poachers” who seem determined to make sure the teenagers don’t get out of the desert alive. It is soon revealed that they are dealing with more than just an abnormally colored lion. There’s a deadly virus and a corporation that will stop at nothing to make sure word doesn’t get out.
From the moment I picked up Kalahari, I couldn’t put it down. Jessica Khoury has written a story that weaves together adventure, sci-fi, friendship, and romance. Your feel for for Sarah due to the painful loss of her mother and the disappearance of the only other family she has: her father. I felt like I was there with Sarah and the other teenagers as they trekked across the Kalahari Desert, facing danger in the form of wild animals and ruthless men with guns. Khoury uses incredible descriptive language that had me easily visualizing the African landscape and shivering in sympathy, such as when Sarah is in hiding and a poisonous snake literally slithers on top and over her body. Khoury even took a trip to the Kalahari Desert for research and by the end of the book, I felt like I too had visited the desert.
The characters in Kalahari were very relatable. Sarah loses pretty much everything she knows throughout this book, but manages to keep going and keep the others alive despite the fact that all odds are against her. Sam has also gone through a lot, yet he manages to be the voice of reason and a source of comfort for Sarah. Avani is the so-called “nerd” who becomes more relatable as the book goes on. Joey is a complete goofball who keeps the feeling light when it is needed. Kase and Miranda are the painfully dependent and spoiled couple that becomes more bearable as the story progresses; as the reader learns more, you understand why they act the way they do. All of the characters feel as if they are real and could live just down the street from you.
The sci-fi element adds another level of intrigue for the reader. This “silver” virus adds to the danger, mystery, and importance of their journey through the desert being successful. It’s a science experiment gone wrong, and is both awesome and terrifying. On top of the challenge of surviving in the desert without food, water, and other supplies, they also have to worry about escaping an intensely dangerous and deadly virus.
I definitely recommend Kalahari for people who enjoy adventure, mystery, or sci-fi elements. I had to know what happened to Sarah and her father, the virus, and how they survived being chased by poachers and deadly animals. Whether running from poachers, the silver lion, or the virus, Kalahari is full of non-stop action and danger. The reader truly feels as if they are along for the ride throughout the whole story. If you’ve read Khoury’s Origin or Vitro, you will enjoy Kalahari as well.
Jessica Khoury wrote her first book at age 4, a fan fic sequel to Syd Hoff’s Danny and the Dinosaur, which she scribbled on notebook paper, stapled together, and placed on the bookshelf of her preschool classroom. Since that day, she’s dreamed of being an author.
When not writing, Jess enjoys spending time with family, playing video games, and traveling the world in search of stories and inspiration.
Jess currently lives in Greenville, South Carolina. She is the author of Origin, Vitro, and Kalahari.
Thank you to Penguin Teen for providing me a copy of Kalahari for review. See our interview with Jessica Khoury and the other Penguin Teen on Tour authors here. There’s also a chance to win a copy of Kalahari!