Every Hidden Thing

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Every Hidden Thing Book Poster Image
Absorbing dino-hunting adventure has some mature content.

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Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

In the Acknowledgements section, the author explains that his story was inspired, in part, by rivalry of two American paleontologists in the late-19th century. So expect both a primer on paleontology (the names of different bones, how to tell the difference between bone and rock in the field, how to set up an excavation site. etc....) and on life in the Badlands post-Civil War. Readers board the Transcontinental Railroad and experience a rough-and-tumble Western town complete with gambling halls and bordellos. The story also briefly touches upon the plight of the Sioux and Lakota people at that time and talks about Sioux funeral practices. Also explored: how hard it was to be a woman scientist in that era.

Positive Messages

Embrace the joy of discovery and have faith in your dreams. It's important to let go of jealousy and old grudges.

Positive Role Models & Representations

It's clear that Samuel and Rachel don't have the best role models in their fathers. Throughout the book they discover harsh realities about them -- Sam's father's impulsiveness and showiness, Rachel's father's snobbishness, sneakiness, and lack of respect for Native Americans -- and make conscious decisions not to be like them. Sam's still impulsive and Rachel's standoffish at times, but they work hard to find themselves and make their own way apart from their fathers.


The most jarring: the decapitation of two Sioux corpses "for science." Also: a snake bite nearly kills; men are threatened with scalping; a fire breaks out in camp; two men get beaten up, one's tied up and held prisoner afterward; a few fistfights break out. Rumors of what the Sioux do to intruders: beatings, scalpings, then people chopped up with axes, their pieces scattered. Talk of how main characters' mothers died when they were young: from influenza and childbirth.


A few scenes of sex between older teens after they marry, with some descriptions of getting naked, pain the first time, and getting a "rubber" in town so the wife doesn't get pregnant. Talk of erections and a few bawdy jokes. Plus one very minor character works in a bordello, another walks into a bordello by accident, and talk about a bordello upstairs from a rowdy bar.


One instance of "s--t," one of "ass," plus "hell," "bastard," and "damn" a few times, and talk of  "hard-ons."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen and his father get drunk on whiskey in a train car where the alcohol is flowing and everyone around them is liberally partaking. Adults smoke cigars in a few scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Every Hidden Thing is by Kenneth Oppel, the acclaimed author of The Boundless, The Nest, and the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series. Like the train adventure story The Boundless, Every Hidden Thing has an intrepid spirit to it as two competitive paleontologist families head west in the late 19th century to discover dinosaur bones in the Badlands of South Dakota. The most jarring violence you'll find: the decapitation of two Sioux corpses "for science." Also: a snake bite nearly kills; men are threatened with scalping; a fire breaks out in camp; two men get beaten up, one's tied up and held prisoner afterward; and a few fistfights break out.  A whole train car full of people gets drunk, including a teen, and there's some mature sexual content: older teens have sex a few times after they get married, with some description. Readers will learn quite a bit about both the paleontology of the era, and what a joy it must have been to be the first to discover these dinosaurs, and about life in the West post-Civil War, including the plight of the Native Americans at that time.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old October 27, 2017

I was a bit young

I was not as old as I say you should be. And it made it completely horrifying at the end though quite good in the middle. The age I wrote is the very bottom min... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bybros08 February 3, 2017

It was a good read, just too much sexual content

It's a fine book for middle aged teens as long as your fine with some pretty detailed sex scenes

What's the story?

In EVERY HIDDEN THING, teens Rachel and Samuel live somewhat parallel lives in the eastern U.S. years after the Civil War. Rachel's dad, a paleontology professor at Yale, has taught Rachel most of what he knows. She has a talent for sketching his finds. And Samuel's father, a less scholarly but more published fossil hunter, takes Samuel on his expeditions. Sam boasts he can put a raccoon's bones together in just minutes. So when Rachel and Sam meet at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, sparks fly. Too bad their highly competitive fathers' fists also fly when they see each other again. Old rivalries die hard. Things gets worse for their fathers -- and better for the amorous Rachel and Sam -- when both men decide to hop on a train for the Badlands after they hear of some amazing fossil hunting grounds. The competition is fierce to find the biggest specimens as the threat of retaliation by the Sioux looms, especially after Rachel's unfeeling father takes the heads of deceased Sioux from funeral platforms "for science."   

Is it any good?

This eclectic mix of Old West action-adventure, whirlwind romance, and dinosaur fossil hunting is the absorbing page-turner you didn't know you were looking for. Author Kenneth Oppel takes the intrepid spirit of his amazing 900-car train story The Boundless and throws in the often-amusing rivalry between two paleontologists, then adds a star-crossed-lovers tale between the paleontologists' only children, Rachel and Samuel. Put it all together and the story moves like a brushfire from teen flirting to Western barroom brawl to scientific discovery to Sioux raids and back. All that in just over 350 pages with not a word wasted.

The only time the reader may have to slow down and catch a breath: when the narrator changes abruptly between Rachel and Samuel. While it's great to know both perspectives, with so much going on it's hard to keep up with more than one narrator. A small quibble in an otherwise all-around great read. If Oppel doesn't have a huge fan base by now, he will very soon.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what you learned in Every Hidden Thing. What did you find out about paleontology in the late 19th century? What about the Native Americans?

  • What did Rachel and Sam learn about their fathers in the Badlands? How did it change them?

  • Have you read much historical fiction or books set in the Old West? If not, will you be interested to read more after this book?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure and Old West stories

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