Picks of the Week—and the Month

Delightfully, at my house, my tween’s love for mystery novels continues unabated. My daughter had such an unexpectedly happy reaction to Murder is Bad Manners (covered here a few weeks ago) that for Christmas, I was compelled to track down a series that might hold her interest—without being too terrifying.

What I found was this:

It’s the first in a trilogy by Peter Abrahams. And while normally I run screaming in the opposite direction from anything that shows up on a best-seller list, this one came recommended by Stephen King. Hard to ignore a plug like that. The second delight: My daughter actually asked me to read it aloud to her. This after two unhappy years of being denied! And the third: The book is laugh-out-loud funny in addition to providing a smart, sophisticated, but not-too-grownup mystery (I’d say the upper echelons of Middle Grade, skirting YA) for the heroine, and the reader(s) to untangle. We polished it off in about 4 days. And now, we’re on to the second:

It occurs to me, about 30 pages into this sequel, that if the context of these books were something other than mystery—drama, say—their supporting fabric would still work. This is due in no small part to the deep character-building the author has accomplished for Ingrid, the protagonist and so far, sole mystery-solver, as well as her relationships with her friends, nemeses, assorted townsfolk, and most importantly, curmudgeonly grandfather. She does things well, like playing soccer and acting in community theater productions, but never for a moment do we think of her as an expert, or a protege, which is what makes following her sometimes slightly clunky exploits so compelling. She could fail. And the stakes are high enough that failure would have dire consequences. 

Yes, the books are a little scary at times. But also they’re also plain good stories. And if you can convince your own tweens to let you read to them again, that helps to take the edge off some of the fright. Not to mention, allows you enjoy the yarn at the same time.

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