When the Star-Spangled Banner is taken from its super-secure Smithsonian vault, three kids connected by their Vermont background and family membership in a secret artifact-protection society combine with a visiting fourth to find the irreplaceable national treasure.
Messner launches her projected three-book Silver Jaguar Society series with a fast-paced mystery. It finds a diverse group of young people snowed in at an airport with an aspiring presidential candidate; they must engage in an improbable but gripping hide-and-seek game through the belts and tunnels of the baggage-handling system to find the flag and avoid the perpetrators. There’s a character for every reader: Anna, an aspiring journalist; African-American Henry, facing big family changes; José, who loves books; and 8-year-old Sinan, Pakistani son of two traveling musicians. The frenetic action comes right out of Henry’s beloved video games or José's well-thumbed Harry Potter volumes, but there are political overtones, too. The xenophobia behind some proposals for immigration reform is addressed directly when José suggests that Anna’s family might be Malfoys, and again as candidate Snickerbottom accuses “artsy all-over-the-world orchestra types” of the theft. While the way the cast moves in and out of secure areas of the airport is improbable, readers caught up in the chase won’t care.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, a sparkling start for a promising new series. (Mystery. 8-12)