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Salt (full name, John Salt) is a kid who lives near the Wilds, a chunk of reclaimed coal-mining land in Ohio where wild animals from all over the world are fed, studied, and protected. Salts Dad is an animal doctor; his mother is the director of the Wilds. So he gets to spend a lot of time with animals. But Salts favorite specimens are the brood of rare, flying dragons that have just hatched on the Wildsthe first live dragons in recorded Ohio history.
Salt worships a Chinese dracologist named Dr. Zhao. He nurses nine baby dragons. He draws pictures of them. He even wears their dung to school on the cuffs of his trousers. Which makes him seem a bit odd to his classmates, including his best friends glamorous, popular, and surprisingly intelligent sister Candi. The person Candi worships is Salts aunt, the head of research at a big Paris-based cosmetics company. When Dr. Salt drops in for an unexpected visit, Candi trails after her, hoping to be picked as her assistant for an upcoming Paris fashion show.
But it turns out that Dr. Mary Athena Salt has her own designs on Salts dragons. A sinister plan to sacrifice these rare, magical creaturesand her nephew, if necessaryto perfect her long-sought-after antidote to aging. With no one to help him defend his beloved dragons, Salt leads them on a desperate nighttime journey to hide them from Aunt Mary Athena. Meanwhile, Candi is forced to rethink her priorities when her ambition to become Dr. Salts assistant gets her mixed up in a dangerous and cruel experiment. Now the two unlikely friends must stand together to stop the ultimate dragon lady from achieving her vicious wish.
This isnt Linda Zinnens first book, but its her first that Ive read. Its an encouraging starting point, mixing a stranger-than-fiction, real-life place (the Wilds actually exist! Dont you want to go there?) with an over-the-top villain, mixing scientific animal observations and rugged outdoors adventure with the fantasy of flying on the back of a fire-breathing dragon. There are strengths and weaknesses to Zinnens way of capturing the way her young characters think and speak. On the weakness side, I lost count of the number of times I read the words Wow. Justwow. Ditto the words Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. On the other hand, Candis confused mixture of vanity and cleverness, and Salts naïve simplicity combined with a core of true bravery, add up to a lot of good-natured charm and clean fun.