A sixth-grade gossip learns what it takes to be a serious reporter when she joins the staff of the student newspaper as bizarre events escalate at school.
In this debut middle-grade novel, Molly Warner lives for gossip, sharing every juicy story she hears with anyone who will listen. When her remarkably understanding principal redirects her energy by having her join the student paper, Molly finds herself on the trail of a mystery involving the theft of the school’s only basketball trophy as well as car break-ins, an eruption of weird rashes, and a cherry bomb explosion in the girls’ bathroom. Among the possible culprits: Coach Cooper and two notorious school bullies. After Molly teams up with a fellow reporter to cover and solve the case, a surprise arrest ensues. And Molly discovers that her nose for news has led her to practice what “she was born to do.” Readers won’t discover much adolescent angst in Kilday’s benign middle school setting, but they will find well-placed humor and colorful characters that include Molly and her peers; janitor Frank and his unexpected musical ambitions; a girl whose phobia about germs in the school bathroom is tested in a most unfortunate way; a wise grandpa with a penchant for non sequiturs; and a reclusive ex-teacher who left the profession under a cloud. The author, a former reporter, adds substance to his buoyant novel with serious and timely information about the role of a free press in a democratic society. As Molly investigates the enigmatic happenings at school, she learns about journalistic ethics, interview techniques, and the difference between opinion and reporting. In well-paced segments, she hears about plagiarism, the significance of Watergate, the dangers of fake news—and of self-serving accusations of fake news—the need to fact-check stories spread on social media, and the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. “A free press that questions authority is what makes us a democracy,” asserts Molly’s journalism teacher. “It’s what separates our country from others who don’t have the freedoms that we enjoy.” Weighty stuff, yet Kilday skillfully weaves it all into his entertaining narrative as an organic part of the story.
An enjoyable, well-crafted mystery with humor, mild suspense, a lively heroine, and a timely freedom-of-the-press theme.