I feel bad, but I honestly kind of hated Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen. The book, as a whole, held so much promise and delivered on exactly none of it. If you’re looking for an adventure-filled, Indiana Jones-esque tale about a young girl raised as an explorer/treasure hunter as she goes on an exciting and dangerous journey to find her missing father…this is not the book you want to read. And that fact alone is what truly killed any possibility of me enjoying this novel. It does not for one second live up to the promise made by its cover and synopsis. If I could describe this book in one word that word would be disappointing.
Lola Benko, Annoying Brat
Honestly, the worst part about this book is that Lola is an incredibly self-important snot.
She is completely dismissing of any adult input–all of the adults in this novel are also inept, which only makes it worse–and throws herself into ridiculous situations every time you turn the page. With the fact that McMullen is clearly trying to keep this story somewhat realistic, Lola’s journey to find her missing father feels useless which only results in making the end feel very contrived.
There’s very little to endear me to Lola as she comes off as an inept and narcissistic pre-teen who is convinced that she is the only competent person alive. This is kind of hilarious, too, since she is utterly inept at nearly everything she does. She reads like a girl playing at hero despite having none of the skills to actually do so. Thus, Lola ends up throwing herself and her “friends” into ever-increasingly dangerous situations that none of them are truly prepared to deal with.
I’ll give McMullen credit here with the fact that she occasionally takes advantage of how useless Lola is and has her fail on numerous occasions, so at least Lola is realistic. That said, everything she succeeds at has more to do with luck than anything else thanks to the girl’s lack of skills in a number of areas. I never really got the sense that Lola was smart, but rather that she had one moderate tinkering skill and just spent the rest of the book floundering and stumbling upon success at random intervals.
This, of course, led to some serious deus ex machina.
So, all of the kids in this story are kind of dumb. They’re incredibly inept, making their attempt at an Indiana Jones -esque adventure really difficult to appreciate. Also, with the exception of perhaps Jin, none of the characters are really all that likable?
Lola is by far the worst. She only cares about finding her father, will use anyone she can to achieve this goal, is deeply inconsiderate and downright rude in nearly all of her thoughts, and doesn’t ever actually do anything useful. She repeatedly stumbles across just what she needs simply by chance every time. And being inside her head for the entire book was honestly agony.
Jin, while not terrible, is hyper-focused on winning a competition and beating his arch-nemesis, a girl who is the only one he thinks might have a chance of beating him. This is practically his only motivation. His previous friend was kind of a bully, so he regularly repeats that he doesn’t want to ever have an actual friend. And then he “befriends” Lola with the sole intent to use her tinkering skills to help him beat Hannah in the competition.
Hannah is just plain mean. Even when they become “friends” with her after she blackmails them, she continues to act awful. Part of me wants to feel bad because of the fact that she has to struggle through life, relying only on her academic accomplishments to further her position, but I just couldn’t find much to like about her at all.
So, it’s no wonder, really, that Lola is so inept. She clearly gets it from her father. Despite the fact that he’s only in the book for a short period of time, it quickly becomes clear that Lola is able to accomplish more than he is. Granted, this is largely due to her luck and a ridiculous bit of magic that comes in out of nowhere–I guess sticking to that realistic thing made building an interesting story too difficult–but considering everything that happens I genuinely do have to wonder how he got himself kidnapped in the first place.
And then, despite the fact that he sent Lola to a relative when he began his treasure hunt for her safety, he is somehow perfectly happy to let her risk herself to save him and this stupid magic stone everyone is after. Way to be a responsible adult here.
The villain is a joke.
I know it’s common in children’s books and films for the villain to be ridiculous. I forgive it in a lot of instances. This one, though, blew the ineptness and ridiculousness of every villain I’d ever heard of and even the other characters in this novel completely out of the water. I honestly cannot with how much this antagonist was just a useless and stupid character. It was so bad I cringed every time they came back onto the page.
Also, the nickname, Lola. Really?
So…did I like anything?
Honestly, no. I mean, the cover is cool. And despite my hating Lola entirely, she looks awesome on it. I think my biggest problems with this book really come down to setting, though. Honestly, had Lola just somehow managed to sneak onto a plane and fly out to whatever place her father had last been seen and, I dunno, accidentally hijacked a few kids to help her along the way…a lot could have been better. I don’t think I’d feel like she was incredibly inept had that been the case. Instead of everything falling into her lap, she would have had to actually do something to find her father.
I probably still would have disliked her, but I at least could have respected her.
As the book stands now, I hated everyone and no one really did anything.
I will say this much, though. I think there will be a lot of kids who love it. It’s not written terribly and my complaints have more to do with convenient and unrealistic plot resolutions and awful characters than anything else. These aren’t things that I think a lot of young readers are going to care about, much less recognize. By all accounts, your kid might love this book. I can probably think of students I know who would love this book.
If they grow up reading like I did, they’ll recognize a lot of flaws in it later. But, at least there’s a nostalgia factor with books like that.
Yeah, sure. It’s not bad for the age it’s written.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.