This middle-grade novel tells the story of a musically talented young man who hits his head, gains a strange ability, and draws his friends into a mystery.
In the small town of Ozark, Liam MacLeod and his best friend, Connor Harrison, ride their bikes to Ashford Park. Liam crashes and ends up with five stitches in his temple. Later, in school, he suffers a headache during a test, which heightens his stress over a school orchestra dress rehearsal. He also must deal with bullies Dylan, Kaylee, and Brandon. Despite these distractions, Liam plays bass well during the rehearsal, and his teacher, Mr. Walsh, nominates him for the Musicians Honors Performance Program. After school, on Mud Street, Liam and his sister, Molly, head to Connor’s house to hear a new vinyl record that his uncle gave him—the Allman Brothers’ 1972 album “Eat a Peach.” While listening, Liam holds the used album’s sleeve—and somehow, he’s briefly transported to a different bedroom with “wood-paneled walls and dirty red carpet.” There, he sees a crying girl in a blue, tie-dyed shirt—just before finding himself back at Connor’s place. Liam begins researching extrasensory perception and hears a story from his dad, Lloyd, about a spectral visit that he received from his own grandmother just before she died. Curiosity becomes fright, however, when the sobbing girl again appears to Liam during orchestra practice. Connor suggests that the Mud Street gang should track down the record’s previous owner—Greg Ortman, who wrote his name on the sleeve—to solve the puzzle.
For their nostalgic debut, authors O’Dell and Lauderdale craft a musical mystery that will appeal to children and adults. Though clearly set in modern times (Liam uses Google and Wikipedia), the kids experience an idyllic childhood with bike rides, engaged parents, and secret missions into a nearby city. In total, there are five Mud Streeters, including Liam’s classmate Sarah and her younger brother, David, yet the narrative doesn’t attempt to give everyone equal time, instead choosing to focus on Liam and Connor. This is a wise decision that makes for an exceptionally well-paced story. Side characters, such as Cora, a psychic expert and the owner of a shop called Cora’s Crystals, appear briefly but memorably; she intriguingly tells the kids, “I didn’t realize it was already Wednesday,” as if she was expecting their visit. The authors also grasp that their audience may have a nascent interest in both scientific and supernatural phenomena, and they offer great jumping-off points for further research, as in the line, “matter on a subatomic level exists essentially as vibration.” Parents will be tickled by mentions of the rock band Rush and 1970s radio hits, such as Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” However, they may be less enthusiastic about the kids’ dangerous overnight undertaking in the tale’s final third. Nevertheless, most readers will reach the end wanting to get to know the Mud Street Misfits better.
A sweet adventure that celebrates the wisdom of young and old generations.