A precocious middle schooler saves his family’s Florida motel.
P.T. Wilkie has never had any trouble living up to his namesake, Barnum. He loves to spin a tall tale and be the center of attention. Unfortunately this skill hasn’t brought any attention to his family’s motel, the Wonderland, which has been struggling to survive since his grandfather Walt opened it in the 1970s. When the bank demands full payment on a balloon loan, P.T. and his new friend, Gloria Ortega, have to come up with $100,000 by the end of the month or lose the Wonderland forever. The ensuing schemes and wheeling and dealing are a delight. P.T. is a hoot and a half, smart, determined, and dedicated to his family in a refreshing way. TV-reporter daughter Gloria, with her financial smarts, brushes up against the line of being a bit too much for readers to swallow, but Grabenstein infuses her with the right amount of spunk to be endearing. (From her last name and cover depiction as dark-skinned, readers are likely to infer that she is Latina.) With this pair supported by a cast of (mostly) fully realized characters and a lovingly rendered location, the narrative springs to life as a funny, madcap dash. Grabenstein avoids an episodic feel and threads in a mystery that blooms in the last act and that puts this particular read over the top.
A funny and promising start to a new series. (Mystery. 8-12)