An entertaining coming-of-age story set in 1963 Kansas City.
Vincent (In Search of Motif No. 1, 2011) tells the story of Howard Block, a 12-year-old boy who’s usually one of the last kids picked for gym-class teams. His life is consumed by preparations for his bar mitzvah and his friend Mike’s invented adventures. All that changes, though, when he learns that his doctor father is facing an unfair malpractice suit. Howard, Mike, their friend Stinky and his housekeeper’s son, become amateur spies in an effort to save Howard’s father’s good name. First, they plan to steal a medical file from the home of his father’s rival—who happens to be the father of Howard’s school crush. When Plan A fails, they employ Plan B—secretly recording a conversation with the patient bringing the lawsuit—but they’re thwarted by a hungry mouse. Plan C sees the boys breaking into a synagogue basement to use recording equipment there, but yet another mix-up makes Howard think that it might be time to accept defeat. The novel’s colorful cast—including Howard’s mother, a constant worrier, and his father, who’s easiest to speak to while he’s seated on the toilet—add humor and realism to the story. The novel’s profanity, as well as its more poetic moments (“Old Mission Hills was his allure, with its winding and lush tree-lined streets and stately homes…where the rich could meander and stroll along the lanes and drives and cul-de-sacs.”) mark it as most appropriate for older YA readers. Adults, meanwhile, will likely enjoy Howard’s wise-beyond-his-years nature. The historical setting provides a rich backdrop to the action, and the spy capers keep the story moving along at a quick pace.
Humorous touches and a likeable protagonist make this heartwarming tale a treat.