Friday, June 3, 2016

Book Review: The Underdogs by Sara Hammel

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review.  I have to say that this is just a terrific book for the start of my Summer of Reading! This is a juicy, summertime mystery that definitely has a surprise twist at the end! I thought that it would be pretty difficult to surprise me with a middle grade mystery (I am an experienced educator with a graduate degree), but I'll admit that I was already 90% through the book and thought I knew the answers to everything, before I figured out something VERY important about one of the main characters!

The book opens with the discovery of a sixteen-year-old girl's body at the side of the swimming pool of an advanced competitive tennis club in a suburb of Boston. Nobody is quite certain what exactly happened, but a police detective begins investigating immediately. There are plenty of suspicious characters around at this club, and twelve-year-old Evie and Chelsea are snooping around trying to get to the bottom of the mystery themselves.

You have to follow the book closely and carefully, as the action shifts back and forth from BEFORE Annabel's death and AFTER Annabel's death. It's an interesting way to develop the plot, because important revelations are made in each chapter. If I were sharing this with students, it might lead to interesting discussions about sequencing in stories. You might even be able to work on determining which plot events are causes and which are events. It's not as clear-cut, since the events aren't necessarily presented in the order that they occur.

I also like the character development in this story. Evie, who suffers from emotional neglect and severe body image issues, secretly begins taking tennis lessons from one of the most admired tennis coaches at the club. As her tennis skills improve, so does her self-esteem. The book also deals with bullying as a side issue, and this is a problem with which a lot of middle grade students can relate.

While this is a murder mystery and there is some violence in the book, none of it is too graphic or over-the-top for older elementary or middle school students. I would be comfortable having this book in my classroom library. And I think it would be so much fun to see my students' reaction to the BIG SURPRISE twist in the book. 

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 31st 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


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