Vivid storytelling and a suspenseful plot with four dynamic, if sometimes stereotypical, teen protagonists.


From the Mystery Searchers series , Vol. 6

Four teens investigate a dangerous case in this sixth installment of a mystery series for middle schoolers.

This latest volume in Forbes’ Mystery Searchers series, about a quartet of 21st-century teen sleuths in the historic desert mountain city of Prescott, Arizona, opens with a deft Chapter 1 cliffhanger. The Mystery Searchers—Suzanne Jackson and her twin brother, Tom, and siblings Kathy and Pete Brunelli—are desperately trying to elude masked criminals at the Deception Gap Railroad Yard. (“Suzanne lay flat atop a steel-bodied boxcar, insulated from the cold metal by a light jacket, jeans, and running shoes, stomach down and churning.”) Chapter 2 takes readers back four days, to the anonymous phone call that will embroil the four high school students in their latest case, involving thievery, fraud, a missing man, and a potential murder at a remote rail yard. Conveniently, Suzanne and Tom’s father is the police chief, and the teens’ participation in criminal investigations is sanctioned by law enforcement. A friendly reporter on the local newspaper helps, too. Skillful plotting and ambient scene-setting add depth to this update of the tried-and-true teen-sleuth genre. (Suzanne’s peril is heightened by a description of boxcars stretching out before her, “shadow-like shapes lit by dimmed LEDs and a full moon in a cloudless sky.”) Current technology (GPS trackers, cellphones, a fitness watch, and WhatsApp) plays a significant role, as does a print newspaper, intriguingly enough. The author also underscores the characters’ diversity. The reporter is a refugee from Mozambique, and the missing person is a Black man. Suzanne and Tom are fair-skinned; Pete and Kathy are of Italian descent with dark hair and olive skin. Certain behavioral stereotypes are the only disappointment in this otherwise well-crafted mystery: Suzanne and Kathy “giggle,” repeatedly and unnaturally, when relating the discovery of an injured man, for example. Pete’s likability is compromised by frequent brotherly sniping and his gung-ho enthusiasm over a possible murder with little regard for the actual victim.

Vivid storytelling and a suspenseful plot with four dynamic, if sometimes stereotypical, teen protagonists.

Pub Date: July 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73411-725-7

Page Count: 142

Publisher: St. Leo Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Dizzyingly silly.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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