ERNESTINE, CATASTROPHE QUEEN

A heroine to warm the heart and a mystery to chill the blood.

A young zombie enthusiast tries to bring about the apocalypse and uncovers a murder plot instead in Wyatt’s middle-grade debut.

Harriet the Spy meets Coraline in this horror romp starring almost-13-year-old Ernestine Montgomery. Intent on jump-starting the apocalypse and with a zombie survival guide already written, Ernestine, with the help of her white stepbrother Charleston, tries to raise the undead from a nearby cemetery. Plans are derailed a bit, however, with the attempted murder of their landlady, and the eccentric, “retired artists, both performing and otherwise” who share their apartment building are thrown under suspicion. Wyatt has created a bright, determined, and emotionally complex protagonist to join the illustrious roster of young mystery-solvers and monster-slayers: Ernestine barely blinks when tracking down a would-be homicidal maniac is added to her apocalyptic to-do list. Past trauma, a delicate mother-daughter relationship, and premeditated violence bring a balance of gravitas to the delightfully macabre narrative without slowing it down. Wyatt makes some awkward missteps in representation, overemphasizing the hair textures—and misbehavior—and skin tones of biracial Ernestine and her mother in comparison to brief eye- and hair-color descriptions for white characters such as Charleston. Despite this, the narrative will have readers asking for the sure-to-come sequel.

A heroine to warm the heart and a mystery to chill the blood. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-47158-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

THE WORLD-FAMOUS NINE

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise.

Coded clues put two young sleuths on the trail of a magic mandala hidden somewhere in a huge, bustling department store.

Hardly has meek young Zander Olinga arrived for a visit with Zina Winebee, his grandmother and owner-manager of the Number Nine Plaza, than he learns of a threat to the continued existence of the renowned emporium. The danger is linked to Darkbloom, a rumored evil spirit set on reversing the good-fortune charm left by Nepali monks at the store’s founding. The stone tablet bearing the magical mandala vanished 90 years ago, and finding its hiding place becomes a race pitting Zander and intrepid new ally Natasha Novikov against unknown saboteurs whose minds have been taken over by Darkbloom. The keys to the tablet’s location are a series of ingenious word and number clues left by Zander’s great-granduncle Vladimir, and Guterson provides enough hints along the way for savvy readers to decode them. What he doesn’t do is give either his leads or the many-faceted store (which, over the course of the story, is explored from the Ferris wheel on its roof to the bakery in the cellar) any more depth or distinctive traits than he gives Nepali religious practice. Darkbloom remains a shadowy bugaboo, its actual nature and motivations unexplained and its fate left anticlimactically unresolved. Zander’s father is from Cameroon, and his mother reads white; names cue some diversity in the supporting cast. Final art not seen. (This review has been updated for factual accuracy.)

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780316484442

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

FRAMED!

From the Framed! series , Vol. 1

More escapades are promised in this improbable but satisfying series starter

A smart kid foils big-time thieves in the nation’s capital—and joins the FBI.

Using a method he invented called the Theory of All Small Things, white seventh-grader Florian Bates solves mysteries by piecing together seemingly trivial clues in this engaging, humorous, but not always logical caper. When Florian easily helps the FBI recover three masterpieces stolen from the National Gallery of Art, the dazzled feds supply him with an alias and train him at Quantico. Collaborating with his African-American best friend, superbright, athletic Margaret, Florian finds that even with TOAST, sleuthing gets dangerous when the pair, working undercover, come up against a European crime syndicate—and another spectacular art heist in the form of a forgery substituted for an iconic Monet. Exciting adventures ensue, and clues accumulate until the culprit is revealed and the genuine painting located. Missteps intrude, though: a few lapses in logic may leave readers puzzled; some clues seem contrived; and a subplot involving Florian’s discovery of the startling identity of adopted Margaret’s biological father falls flat. The solution is also a letdown: the thief is a minor figure, and the means by which the painting was stolen and the forgery set in its place aren’t explained. The real draws here are the two resourceful leads’ solid, realistic friendship, bolstered by snappy dialogue, brisk pacing, and well-crafted ancillary characters—not to mention behind-the-scenes glimpses of the FBI.

More escapades are promised in this improbable but satisfying series starter . (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3630-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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