book review: Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past, by Elizabeth MacLeod

[I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher (Annick Press) via NetGalley. A version of this review is also on Goodreads and has been submitted to NetGalley.]

Secrets Underground by Elizabeth MacLeod is a non-fiction book aimed at readers with about a grade 9/10 reading level. The book explores the hidden artifacts below the surface of six different places: Mexico City, San Francisco, Organ Cave in West Virginia, Moose Jaw, New York City, and The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Each chapter describes the buried secret and the historical event surrounding it. For example, the chapter on Moose Jaw talks about the tunnels where Chinese immigrants hid during the building of the Canadian Railway and about how gangsters used the tunnels during Prohibition.

The subject matter is high interest and the historic events are well chosen and diverse. The writing is clear and engaging, and the structure of each chapter, and of the book as a whole, is good.

The layout of the book is also appealing and well done. My one slight annoyance is the distracting nature of “Did you know?” fact boxes that I find interrupt the main narrative. However, this is a very common layout style for textbooks, and I think it’s probably just a personal peeve of mine and a matter of taste.

Overall, I liked this book a lot. I think I’d consider using it as an assigned text for a lower reading level group of young adult literacy learners, because it’s high interest while still being a manageable length and reading level. The chapter-by-chapter structure would make it easy for either independent reading where students chose specific topics of interest, or for reading as a whole class at various points throughout the semester.

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