A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.


Allen’s debut children’s mystery, the first installment of a planned series, introduces a likable kid detective as she takes a case involving unwanted jack-o’-lanterns.

As the story begins, the narrator, 10-year-old detective Samantha Green, mentions a series of previous neighborhood cases that she and her yellow Labrador retriever, Murphy, have solved, including one involving a missing bike and another a lost cat. These successes earn her a new case: Samantha’s spooky neighbor, Mrs. Finkel, has been receiving threateningly carved pumpkins on her front porch, sometimes with even more alarming notes attached. At the same time, Mrs. Finkel finds that broken items in her house are being mysteriously repaired; the home’s familiar creaks and cracks have somehow disappeared. She attempts to enlist Samantha’s help in solving the mystery, but the unkempt woman’s reputation as a witch—suggested by her shapeless black clothing and bloodshot eyes—makes the young detective hesitant to take on the investigation. The Halloween-themed narrative brings to life the novel’s detailed setting and richly developed characters, including Samantha’s goofy little sister. Samantha’s teenage babysitter encourages her to never to judge people by their appearances. After the detective accepts this sage advice, she begins to unravel Mrs. Finkel’s mysteries—including the true story behind her witch-like appearance. Samantha eventually solves the case, but the resolution has no major twists or shocking revelations and may not surprise serious young readers. However, the novel’s emotional depth, engaging prose style, appealing characters and witty protagonist overcome the story’s predictability.

A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478160236

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2013

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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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A snappy mystery that’s full of heart.


From the Hide and Geek series , Vol. 1

A group of bright friends tackles the puzzle of their lives.

Elmwood, New Hampshire, 11-year-old Gina Sparks is small in stature but big on reporting ongoing dramas for the local newspaper with support from her journalist mom. When an unbelievable scoop comes her way, Gina must rely on her tightknit crew of sixth grade best friends whose initials happen to spell GEEK, a label they choose to proudly reclaim. She and science-minded prankster Elena Hernández, theater kid Edgar Feingarten, and driven math genius Kevin Robinson decide to get to the bottom of things when they learn that the Van Houten Toy & Game Company heir made elaborate plans to leave everything to the town of Elmwood before her death—but only if a member of the community could solve an intricate multistep puzzle. Gina hopes that deciphering the clues and finding the missing fortune will be just the thing to revitalize the down-on-its-luck town and bring the Elmwood Tribune back into the black, saving her mom’s job and Gina’s passion project. The GEEKs work together, using their individual talents and deductive reasoning skills to unravel the mystery. Infused with media literacy pointers, such as the difference between fact and opinion and reminders to avoid bias when reporting, the story encourages readers to think critically. Gina and Edgar read as White; Elena is cued as Latinx, and Kevin is implied Black.

A snappy mystery that’s full of heart. (Mystery. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-37793-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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