At a ramshackle Scottish boarding school, three children begin a hair-raising adventure.
Why must Alice’s home, Cherry Grange, be sold? Ever since her mum died four years ago, Alice—a dark-haired, white 11-year-old—has been a shadow of her former self. Her beloved father is unreliable, and her aunt decides nothing will help Alice but a fresh start. So it’s off to Stormy Loch Academy for Alice. It’s an odd sort of place: full of Challenges, where students discover Talents, and actions have Consequences. (Both characters and narrator have a tendency to speak with capitalized significance.) More importantly, the building is a storybook castle, with forbidden towers and pigs to feed. Despite an extremely rough start, Alice comes to depend on two of her classmates. Jesse Okuyo is a tall, multiracial rule-follower, and Fergus Mackenzie is a rule-breaking white redhead and the bane of Jesse’s existence. On the Great Orienteering Challenge, the three discover that Alice’s mercurial father has entangled them in a dangerous adventure, complete with foreign criminals, shootings, and an island chase. The adventure is self-consciously—and delightfully—in the spirit of classic British school stories: Alice’s favorite book is Eva Ibbotson’s Amazon adventure, Journey to the River Sea (2001), and the foreshadowing narrative voice is markedly old school. Prose peppered with ellipses and dashes at times drags this otherwise-buoyant coming-of-age tale into languid meanders.
Smashing: a romantic, ripping yarn set in the mobile-phone era. (Adventure. 10-12)