“Floods were always threatening the town. We kept building the dam higher and higher–I swear we were only making the storms angrier! As hard as it was to admit, folks knew that someday they’d have to move on. This time there was no stopping it” — Benjamin, Treasure in the Lake, p. 136.
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Animals in Danger, Dam, Flood, Hostile Environment, Natural Disaster|
|Protagonists’ Identity||Iris: 13-year-old white girl |
Sam: 12-year-old white boy
|Protagonists’ Level of Environmental Agency||Level 3: Moderate, Plot-Driven Environmental Agency|
|Target Audience||Middle Grade|
|Settings||Fictional town of Bugden|
Jason Pamment’s graphic novel Treasure in the Lake takes place in the fictional city of Bugden. Childhood friends Iris, a thirteen-year-old girl, and Sam, a twelve-year-old boy, have grown apart after their interests diverged. Adventurous Iris spends her time exploring a nearby river and dreams of leaving Bugden to become an archeologist and travel the world. By contrast, Sam views Bugden as his home and can’t imagine leaving. After Iris learns that her family can’t afford to send her away to a prestigious boarding school, she runs away to the river. Sam follows her, and they discover that the water has receded overnight. Following the now empty riverbed, they discover a ruined city that was previously concealed under the water.
Together, the children begin to explore the city, discovering items left behind by the previous inhabitants. However, Sam wants to return to Bugden for a town event, angering Iris. Pulling out her boarding school acceptance letter, she tells him, “… you deserve Bugden. You’re going to waste your life there, and you don’t even care. But not me… I’ve been accepted. Next year I’ll be boarding in the city and then, who knows? New school. New friends. New life” (Pamment 73). Hurt, Sam leaves the abandoned city and meets Benjamin, an older man who lives alone in a house near the river with his dog, Rupert. In the meantime, Iris continues to explore the city, which grows increasingly strange: a previously barren tree sprouts leaves, the ruined houses appear like new, and an odd girl named Lily appears and shows Iris a secret tunnel under the city.
At Benjamin’s house, Sam learns that the city was submerged beneath the river after a dam broke during a devastating flood. Benjamin, a previous resident of the underwater city, recalls, the dam higher and higher–I swear we were only making the storms angrier! As hard as it was to admit, folks knew that someday they’d have to move on. This time there was no stopping it” (Pamment 136). Sam realizes that the city will soon flood again and that Iris is in danger. Sam and the dog Rupert return to the city as the water begins to rapidly rise. Iris tries to convince Lily to flee with her, but the girl mysteriously disappears. Sam, Iris, and Rupert escape to the top of a clocktower, and Benjamin rescues them in his boat. The two children apologize for their fight and resolve to be better friends. The graphic novel concludes without providing a clear explanation for Iris’s experiences in the city: Did she travel back in time? Did she encounter a ghost?
Pamment fills the panels with lush illustrations of nature, including many wordless drawings of beetles and fish. Though the characters cannot prevent the flood, Sam and Iris do rescue Rupert from the floodwaters. Additionally, Sam continually exhibits awe and compassion for nature, such as returning a stranded fish to the river. As a result, the graphic novel encourages young readers to appreciate the environment, while also depicting the dire consequences of humans building cities in areas where natural disasters may occur.