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A fine mystery with winsome characters and a complicated old house, but one that requires some suspension of disbelief.

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In Saller’s middle-grade novel, a tween and her friends race against time to restore her great-grandmother’s good name.

The Stanton family—11-year-old Lainie, Lainie’s widowed dad, Grandpa Jack, Uncle Daniel, and Uncle Patrick—live in a quirky old mansion in Kenwood, Ohio, and have an unusual tragedy in their past. Back in the 1930s, Lainie’s great-grandmother and namesake, Madeleine, was convicted of murdering her supervisor, a pharmacologist. Maddie pleaded self-defense, but the jury discounted her plea and sentenced her to death. After a TV reporter tricks Lainie into an interview about Maddie, the tween swears on air to clear her great-grandmother’s name. A lot depends on Maddie’s little blue diary, which has gone missing, along with some loose papers inside it that contain key evidence. Complicating things further is the fact that Maddie’s youngest child, Cicely (aka Gracie), hid the book decades ago, fearing her mother’s anger for her drawing in it; the child was kidnapped shortly after Maddie’s death, and was only found in an asylum years later. As Lainie and school friends Elle Mendez and Seth Watson investigate, the fun is in the details of discovery, as well as the crush that Lainie has on dreamy Seth (and her angst about it). This is not Saller’s first foray into the mystery genre, which she knows her way around well, but it does stretch credulity a bit that, in the mid-20th century, the state of Ohio would have so easily executed a widow with four young children who’d never committed a crime before. The characterization of the fiercely protective Stanton household is appealing, however, and Saller’s descriptions of their house as a Gothic Victorian treasure of hidden hallways, stairways, cubbyholes, and hidden levers to open hidden doors are wonderful. Every few chapters, the book includes check-ins about the fortunes of the little blue diary, which plays a key role in the narrative.

A fine mystery with winsome characters and a complicated old house, but one that requires some suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2023

ISBN: 9798986235387

Page Count: 248

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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Broccoli: No way is James going to eat broccoli. “It’s disgusting,” says James. Well then, James, says his father, let’s consider the alternatives: some wormy dirt, perhaps, some stinky socks, some pre-chewed gum? James reconsiders the broccoli, but—milk? “Blech,” says James. Right, says his father, who needs strong bones? You’ll be great at hide-and-seek, though not so great at baseball and kickball and even tickling the dog’s belly. James takes a mouthful. So it goes through lumpy oatmeal, mushroom lasagna and slimy eggs, with James’ father parrying his son’s every picky thrust. And it is fun, because the father’s retorts are so outlandish: the lasagna-making troll in the basement who will be sent back to the rat circus, there to endure the rodent’s vicious bites; the uneaten oatmeal that will grow and grow and probably devour the dog that the boy won’t be able to tickle any longer since his bones are so rubbery. Schneider’s watercolors catch the mood of gentle ribbing, the looks of bewilderment and surrender and the deadpanned malarkey. It all makes James’ father’s last urging—“I was just going to say that you might like them if you tried them”—wholly fresh and unexpected advice. (Early reader. 5-9)

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-14956-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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