A modern Nancy Drew replacement grounded in current technology but largely reliant on brain power and courage.

THE SILVER BOX

From the Enchantment Lake series , Vol. 3

Plucky 17-year-old investigator Francie is back for the concluding episode of a trilogy set in Minnesota.

Francie has discovered a small silver box that is somehow connected to her mother’s mysterious disappearance 13 years earlier. The additional discovery of a mysterious abandoned cabin in the woods awakens vague memories of when her mother went away, all clues to opening the tricky puzzle box and locating a vital (but forgetful) elderly woman in a nursing home. Aided by her pal Raven and Jay, another classmate, Francie follows clues she hopes will lead to her mother. Although a few red herrings add uncertainty, the villains remain largely hidden from readers, leaving the mystery mostly unsolvable even to clever armchair sleuths until the evildoers eventually reveal themselves. Brief environmental messages crop up frequently and are only mildly didactic. Although the mystery and its resolution rely on sometimes improbably convenient happenstance, Francie’s plausibly intrepid nature (and remarkable lack of reliance on adults) keeps the plot moving at an engaging pace, and the wintry Northwoods setting provides an appealing backdrop. Although the mostly White characters are only sparingly depicted, Raven talks about biased treatment and double standards she experiences as an Ojibwe person.

A modern Nancy Drew replacement grounded in current technology but largely reliant on brain power and courage. (Mystery. 11-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5179-0968-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved.

ESCAPE FROM ZOBADAK

Four children find their way into another world through a hidden doorway in a mysterious old piece of furniture.

Gallagher elaborates on this oddly familiar premise by (eventually) explaining that the right sort of wooden joinery will link furniture from any place or time. Billy, his little sister Sophie and their friends Chris and Maggie discover a seemingly endless maze of hallways lined with doors and drawers full of strange artifacts by crawling into a nightstand belonging to missing Uncle Gary. The labyrinth is actually a “cabinet of curiosities” that brilliant carpenters of many generations have been building to store treasures like Excalibur and the Thunderbird Photograph. Before this is explained, however, the four children have spent many chapters wandering the halls at random—and also being menaced in the outside world by animated wooden puppets from the fictional “Zobadak Wood Company,” who are after Uncle Gary and the nightstand at the command of a shadowy figure named Brope. Along with introducing scads of enigmatic elements from flocks of aggressive crows to a mischievous fairy, the author injects artificial melodrama into the tale by having Billy and Sophie rescue their pointlessly kidnapped parents. He clumsily tries for comic relief by casting the puppets as inept Abbott-and-Costello types and with no perceptible rationale closes by having all of the adults stonewall or downplay everything that has happened.

Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-934133-32-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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The play’s the thing, on the boards and…beyond.

NOAH MCNICHOL AND THE BACKSTAGE GHOST

The Plattsfield-Winklebottom Memorial Sixth-Grade Players tackle Hamlet—and not the bowdlerized “No-Trauma Drama” version, either.

To be sure, “Hamlet, the Tale of a Gritty Prince Who Learns To Be Patient,” is what the inexperienced young players are handed—but hardly has oddly elusive new director Mike stepped in to sub for the annual event’s customary one (who has, with fine irony, broken her leg) than every script magically reverts to the Bard’s original and they find themselves plunged into a bloody, complicated, and much cooler scenario. But who is Mike, and how is it that he can apparently not only appear and vanish at will, but conjure elaborate sets and costumes out of thin air? Taking a cue from his erstwhile literary hero Nate the Great, Noah (aka Marcellus, Gravedigger One, Rosencrantz, and Fortinbras) sets out to solve this double mystery. Electrifyingly, Mike turns out to be a renowned stage director…who died in 2014. That’s far from the only twist that Freeman delivers on the way to a triumphant performance—and a rush of family revelations. Her characters quote Shakespeare at one another as immersive rehearsals lend hard-won insights into the play’s linguistic and thematic slings and arrows. Noah, who is Jewish, describes Plattsfield as predominantly White; there are a few students of color, including Fuli, a girl cast as Hamlet who emigrated from Nepal. Color-blind casting and race are explored to some degree.

The play’s the thing, on the boards and…beyond. (Paranormal mystery. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6290-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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