The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan

Cover image

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan (9781984848598)

When Aidan disappears one day, Lucas and his family spend all their time searching for him. The police and the entire community come out, looking for Aidan. After six days of being gone, Aidan suddenly reappears in the attic of their house. He tells an incredible story of entering a fantasy world through the cupboard in the attic. Lucas, his younger brother, desperately wants to believe him. The two spend the darkness before they fall asleep talking about where Aidan was. But their parents don’t believe him at all and the police, while not pushing for him to tell the truth, clearly see his tale as a coping mechanism. When his story is accidentally released by the police, the entire school begins mocking Aidan. Lucas sticks by his brother’s side, though underneath is still not sure what to believe.

Levithan has published books for teens primarily and this time turns his talent to a book for middle graders. It’s a book that asks a lot of questions and allows them to linger, hanging in the air without resolution for some time. It’s a book that forces readers to ask themselves what they believe in, what they would do, what choices they would make in this situation. As always, Levithan’s prose is engaging and his pacing is skillful, something that is particularly important in a book like this, not allowing it to drag but carrying the book forward.

The central question of believing his brother places Lucas in a precarious position. He finds himself knowing more than anyone else about Aidan’s claimed experience and then also in the public having to not reveal all that he knows. He is a great younger brother, standing with his older sibling despite the mockery they both face. Told from Lucas’ viewpoint, the book relies on his take on what is happening, what he himself witnesses and his love for his brother.

An enticing book of fantasy and mystery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

2021 Edgar Awards Nominees

The Mystery Writers of America have announced their nominees for the 2021 Edgar Awards which honor the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2020. Here are the nominees in the youth categories:

BEST JUVENILE

Coop Knows the Scoop by Taryn Souders

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor

My and Banksy by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Nessie Quest by Melissa Savage

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

YOUNG ADULT

The Companion by Katie Alender

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Silence of Bones by June Hur

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

Join a band of brave heroes who adventure through dungeons and then take on more sinister threats above ground. There is Rose, the pun-flinging pink cat mage. June is the quieter dog healer who keeps the entire group alive. Goro is the big green creature who serves as the muscle. Finally, Jeremy is the frog with a sharp sword and a vendetta against The Baron. After finding a strange plant, our heroes must figure out how it is being used by The Baron to potentially take over the world. As they work through the threats and puzzles, the group steadily reveal themselves to the reader. Goro misses his boyfriend Horse Boy and Jeremy seems to be far more royal than he first appeared. Meanwhile, there is some romantic heat between Rose and June that plays out throughout the book.

Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating. There is plenty of action for those who love that aspect of gaming, but really where this book shines is in the character development, just like any great D&D campaign. The inclusion of LGBT elements and full-on romance is marvelous. It’s a book sure to make everyone feel included in gaming, dungeons and even fancy dances.

The art is bright and dashing while the writing adds the joy of puns as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud. The two together make for a book that is a fast read because the action gallops along and readers will want to know what happens to these characters that they love.

Full of action, romance and humor, this is a dungeon worth crawling for. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer (cover image)

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (9780525552857)

Jamila is living in a new neighborhood where she doesn’t have any friends. She wants to spend her summer playing basketball in a park nearby, but her mother doesn’t want her out alone. So when Jamila meets Shirley, they come up with a new plan for their summer. Shirley will come with Jamila to the basketball courts and then Shirley will do her thing too. But Shirley is more than a little strange and a lot secretive. Jamila figures out that Shirley helps children in the neighborhood solve small mysteries that arise. Soon the two of them are on a case together, helping Oliver figure out where his gecko went. It’s a case with many possible suspects. Jamila discovers she has detective skills herself and becomes a full partner. But does Shirley really see her that way? When their friendship and detective service falls apart, can they sleuth out how to get it back on track?

Goerz has created an engaging graphic novel that centers on solving a mystery. Readers will love the characters in particular, Shirley and Jamila are very different from one another, but find ways to connect. After all, Shirley’s work is fascinating and the way her mind works is impressively different and more like a young Sherlock Holmes. Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.

The art is engaging and the story is full of diverse characters. The pages are filled with people from different races and cultures. Readers will love the look at a vibrant urban neighborhood where mysteries abound.

Ideal reading for fans of Raina Telgemeier who are looking for a diverse and mysterious read done right. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (9781646140053)

Elatsoe has the ability to raise the dead, though raising human dead is dangerous and filled with too much risk. She has though raised her dog back from the dead and he goes everywhere with her. Now Elatsoe’s cousin has been murdered. He came to her in a dream to tell her who killed him. Elatsoe and her family travel to Willowbee, a picture-perfect town where the man who killed her cousin reigns as the owner of the medical clinic and wealthy citizen. Elatsoe and her best friend begin to investigate Willowbee and this man, uncovering a sinister world of medical procedures, greed and the undead. They just have to stay alive long enough to figure out how everything fits together.

The author has created a debut fantasy novel that features a familiar American landscape that is imbued with magic of several varieties. The main character and her family use skills that come from their Lipan Apache heritage. Others use fey magic and travel via rings of mushrooms. Still others are vampires or psychics. It’s a rich tapestry of fantasy, centered on Native American culture. That tapestry is impressive on its own but adding to the appeal is a deep murder mystery as well as a facade that must fall. It’s a gripping mystery solved via sleuthing and magic.

The characters are marvelously drawn. Ellie is the main character, a girl deeply connected to her Lipan Apache heritage and who longs to explore her powers further. She is brave, determined and resilient in the face of a favorite cousin being murdered. Her best friend helps with research, showering her with texts as he learns more. The two of them together are funny and warm, just what the book needs to offset the grim mystery at times.

An incredible new voice in fantasy. Here’s hoping she writes many more! Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Levine Querido.

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins The Witch's Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon (9780525646761)

Pete and Alastair make money solving mysteries along with their stepsister. When a magical storm appears near the lighthouse, elements of their skills are suddenly revealed. Despite being separated from one another during the storm, all three of the teens meet the witch behind the magic. Soon they are taking new lessons from a student of their guardian, magic power lessons! With three girls missing, including the daughter of the prominent Bradford family, there is a mystery to be solved that will require both their detective skills and their emerging magical powers.

This is the first graphic novel in a planned duology, which is good enough for readers to hope for even more than two! The book is set in the late 1960’s, giving it an engaging original Scooby Doo meets Sabrina vibe. Sprinkled liberally with humor, thanks to the twins, the book offers adults who stand back and let the teens solve mysteries but who also provide solid support and knowledge themselves. It also has a great villain, though untangling who that might be is a big part of the fun.

The art is engagingly 1960’s as well with apparel and cars clearly placing it in time. Using bold colors and classic cartoon boxing, the result is dynamic and engaging with clear nods to comics that have gone before.

A winning new series that offers magic and mystery. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti (9781534426979)

Sydney is the daughter of the famous Lila Shore, an actress who did an iconic sex scene. Sydney lives most of the year in Seattle attending a private school, living in a dorm, and visiting her grandmother. But over the summer, Sydney heads to San Francisco to spend months with her mother, who never seems to actually have time to spend with Sydney. Lila lives in Jake’s house, dating him and staying for free. It’s a house near the beach with cliff views, a house that is often fogged in, a house full of secrets and violence. Jake pays a lot of attention to Sydney, as does a construction worker at a neighboring house. Sydney is creeped out by the sudden attention to what she is wearing, how she looks and innuendos about what she does. However, she doesn’t mind the attention from Nicco, a sweet boy she meets on the beach, who captures lines and moments from each day in his journal. As the summer goes on though, the tension grows towards a foreshadowed tragedy that is almost inevitable.

In this slow burn of of thriller mystery, Caletti focuses on how unwanted male attention impacts teen girls, both in the way they act but even more importantly on the way they view themselves. With an even brighter light than our general society, Caletti uses the intensity of fame to capture society’s objectification of women and finding value in the physical rather than the internal.

The book works on several levels with the thriller being steadily foreshadowed by the court documents listed at the beginning of each chapter. The mystery of what happened, the steadily build of tension, and the intensity of the revealing scene. It also works as a deep work of feminist literature, insisting that the reader notice what is going on, notice the impact that male attention has, and notice that something must be done to change this.

An intense feminist novel for teens that insists on being noticed. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon Pulse.

Review: Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell (9781984835482)

The book begins with Chapter One, of course, where it is discovered that Chapter Two is missing! A phone number for the police, an email and even a place to tweet is offered to the reader. When the page is turned to Chapter Two, the reader only sees some erased and illegible text on a few pages. Then the book picks up again in mid-story. The chapters move past quickly, with even the characters noting the brisk pace. The detective arrives, the janitor redecorates with M’s and messes with punctuation. Another story merges in for some chapters and then some are blank as characters think hard about the mystery. In the end, the culprit is identified but not caught. Perhaps the reader though can find proof in their own home. Take a look!

Lieb has written a chapter book full of wild humor and a twisting mystery. The book has only three characters: the first person narrator, the detective and the janitor. So the potential suspects are limited. The joy of the book comes with the silliness of the premise, the jaunty pace and the knowledge that each turn of the page will bring something fresh and different. Lieb uses blank pages, inserts a different genre, mirror writing, and messes with punctuation to great effect.

While this may present as a chapter book, it actually bridges between a chapter book and a picture book as it is filled with illustrations and often the chapters are single pages. Done in black and yellow-orange, the illustrations are very funny, often interacting directly with the text on the page.

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Razorbill.

Review: All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)

This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.

Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.

All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.

A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.