Asked to investigate the pranks he’s suspected of executing, a boy uncovers something much more dangerous in this middle-grade novel.
Henry Dunne, 12, is new to Fountain Green Middle School in Maryland after his family moved. His parents’ Italian restaurant is no longer nearby, so instead of going there after school and enjoying the kitchen’s friendly camaraderie, the seventh-grader spends many hours alone at home. To cope, he practices his card tricks and a technique called the Memory Palace that, in Henry’s case, links each card in a deck to certain well-known locations from his beloved old house. The practice calms him, which he needs even more now that he is suspected as the prankster who’s been plaguing the school—and leaving behind, as a calling card, the joker from a blue-backed Bicycle deck (Henry’s favorite), along with other evidence meant to frame the boy. When Principal George Pal’s car disappears from inside its locked garage, he proposes a deal to Henry: “You help me figure out what happened to my car, and I’ll help you figure out who’s causing all the trouble.” Henry is challenged to leave behind the cool, calm reason of his Memory Palace to confront the problem, work with friends and allies, deal with shaken trust, and discover the sinister motives behind the pranks—leading to a perilous, dramatic, and thrilling showdown. Pranks are a not-infrequent topic for middle-grade novels, but Koren (Do Over, 2016) makes something more complicated and poignant from the theme than adolescent high jinks. Characters have rich backstories; Pal, for example, can’t get over a failed relationship, insisting on “closure.” Henry’s friend Lamont loves parkour—but is there another explanation for why he’s always covered in bruises? Brook Leahy, who’s interested in Henry, is a talented artist, not just a pretty girl. And Henry’s loneliness, homesickness, and need for human connection are movingly explored, leading to the tale’s central insight: “Maybe home wasn’t a place, he thought….Maybe home was people.”
Thoughtful and perceptive, with offbeat humor, twisty puzzles, and exciting action.