I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is a fun, middle-grade mystery to read. I enjoyed it, and I believe my fifth grade students would enjoy it, because it's got more suspense to it than mysteries for earlier readers (Cam Jansen, Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown), but it's not over-the-top with scary violence.
The characters are definitely relatable for middle-grade readers. The protagonist, thirteen-year-old Quinnie Boyd, is getting ready to begin a new school year. She's unhappy because her best friend, Zoe, has moved away. A crime novelist and his daughter, Ella, are moving into Zoe's house. Quinnie's mother, Margaret, holds down a number of important jobs in the town of Maiden Rock, Maine. She's the sheriff, a real estate agent, the mayor, and the postmaster. Quinnie's father runs Gusty's, the only restaurant in town. There's also a number of other small town characters that have important roles as the mystery unfolds.
I have never been to Maine, but Surrisi does such a wonderful job describing this small coastal town, that I feel like I have a better understanding of what life is like there. I can imagine what it would be like to walk along the shore of a tidal pool, with gulls flying and screeching overhead. I can hear the sounds of the ocean pounding the shore as I stand on a high cliff overlooking the rocks. This book is definitely a great escape for someone living in the Midwest!
The mystery begins when Quinnie's teacher, Blythe Stillford, fails to show up for her traditional first-day-of-school breakfast date at Gusty's. Concerned, Quinnie walks from the restaurant to Ms. Stillford's house. No one appears to be home when Quinnie peeks in the windows and nobody answers the door. She can see her teacher's cell phone resting on the dining room table. She enters the house through the unlocked kitchen door. Food is left out on the counter, her teacher's house is undisturbed, and her car is still in the garage. Quinnie becomes convinced that her teacher has been kidnapped.
As the mystery unfolds, we see the events in this story from Quinnie's point of view. We experience her frustration as she tries to get her mom (the sheriff) to take her concerns seriously. And as she looks around at the other people in this small town, she starts to see suspects everywhere. As she enlists the help of Ben, one of her friends in the town, and Ella we can see that she's seen one too many episodes of CSI, and her sense of adventure and imagination is going to lead them on a wild adventure.
Character development in this book is great, too. Middle-grade readers will be able to learn along with Quinnie, that she needs to learn to trust her parents more. She also learns that even though someone is from another place (Ella and her father are from New York City.) and is very different from what she's used too (Ella dresses more creatively and wears eye makeup and fingernail polish.), she can still become a good friend.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was engaging and suspenseful. Towards the end, I couldn't put it down because I really needed to know how it turned out. But again, the events and the dangerous criminal elements are appropriate for middle grade readers. I am looking forward to having this title in my classroom library. I think it'll be a popular book with my students.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: March 1st 2016 by Carolrhoda Books