It’s lights out in Hampton, New Jersey.
For 11-year-old Luis Cardenal, the city’s power outage means no school and an unwelcome break from his smartphone. But as the people of Hampton grow restless with the ongoing blackout, fantastical rumors of terrorist attacks and false whispers of foreign intervention spread among the adults. Spurred on by a cryptic clue he overhears, as well as the increasing societal collapse of Hampton, Luis starts investigating the mystery behind the blackout, enlisting the expertise of a local, homeless computer whiz. Along for the ride is Luis’ “ex-best but still friend,” Maura Brown, a white girl who now lives in a much nicer area just outside the city limits. Explicit in her references to racial, gender, and socio-economic divisions prevalent in current U.S. culture, Freeman explores the strained friendship between Luis, a Latino boy who every day gets up “planning to beat the day before it could beat him,” and Maura in a heavy-handed, provocative style. At times, Luis’ Hampton—a city full of dilapidated houses, crime, fear of deportation and the police—depends on stereotypical, politically charged images that may be altogether too real to some readers. The central mystery, meanwhile, falls flat, with a predictable villain and ending.
Light on sleuth action, heavy on the social commentary. (Mystery. 8-12)