Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Mystery of the Ancient Maya suggests answers to the enigmatic demise of the Mayan civilization. Carolyn Mae Meyer and her coauthor Charles Gallenkamp follow the wanderlust and exploits of mid-nineteenth century explorers, adventurers, and thrill seekers. One such explorer, John Lloyd Stephens, journeyed to Guatemala to uncover significant ruins belonging to one of the most fascinating cultures of the Americas, the Maya. The book describes the unrelenting pursuit for a lost civilization that followed.

Meyer is a studious writer who actively becomes involved in her subject matter. Gallenkamp is an archaeologist, student of the Maya, and the author of several books about the subject and is highly respected by his peers. His solid archaeological expertise complements Meyer’s writing style.

The book follows a chronological format when reviewing the explorations but reverts to past centuries in order to discuss the Mayan civilization, its rituals, lifestyle, sacrifices, and wars. The book’s four parts describe the mid-nineteenth century exploration of Mayan ruins, the Mayan royalty, the day-to-day routine of a Mayan city, and theories about the disappearance of the Maya. Each section is well organized, although the omnipresent anecdotal lead-in becomes tiresome, if not confusing. Some beautifully detailed artistic renderings dot the verbal landscape and are accompanied by archival photographs and illustrations—of particular note are the representations of tomb paintings. Pen-and-ink drawings accurately illustrate the emblem glyphs, numerical graphics, and hieroglyphs of Mayan cities. Maps appropriately orient the reader. The index is strong enough to withstand detailed research within the book, and a three-page glossary clearly marks the pronunciation of Mayan terminology.

Although the book’s language is technical at times, the authors carefully define their terms and the processes, items, or tools under discussion. Scientific, technical, archaeological, and Mayan terms are used accurately throughout the text, and most young readers will understand.