In Stim’s (Ivan the Not-So-Terrible, 2013, etc.) latest kids’ book, a 15-year-old thief, a torched houseboat and phone calls from herself are the latest puzzles facing a sharp 12-year-old girl.
Mary Frances “Frankie” Jackson is living for the summer on a Sausalito houseboat with her aunt Roxy (the relationship and Roxy’s surname aren’t made clear in this book, the third in the series). Frankie enjoys her life in California—things got a little dicey back in her native New Jersey—and the wonderfully colorful cast of characters living on the dock. Things get muddled when street-smart teenager Stacy Jones tries to scam donations and steal valuables from dock residents. Afraid “Stacy Lacey”—a star pitcher with a murky back story—will get her unjustly mixed up in another criminal case, Frankie and her K9-dropout German shepherd, Butch, track down the teen. After recovering a stolen pin, Frankie enlists Stacy to partner with her in a pitching contest tied to the reality show that followed a baseball star to Sausalito. Giants left fielder Ricky “The Chipmunk” Chimunsky plans to fill a berth on the dock with a mammoth houseboat for his supermodel girlfriend, upsetting the residents. That situation gets complicated when the existing houseboat at the berth suspiciously burns up in a fire; bizarrely, a caller claiming to be Frankie is the one who alerts her. Unfortunately, Frankie seems to solve little of this swirl of Marin County mystery, because other characters handle the big issues, as if the Hardy Boys did all the detecting but a chum actually cracked the case. This isn’t the narrative’s only misstep. Frankie’s constant references to her boat as a “house-boot”—an inside joke referencing Roxy’s French accent—get cloying quickly. Frankie also dots her narration with charming but inane court-ordered essays on what she’s learned, which do little to advance the plot. Despite these issues, the book features believable, amusingly insightful narration by its 12-year-old star, and it balances its drama—including youth in dangerous situations—perfectly between having a bite and being appropriate for young readers. Stim also handles the reality show well despite it feeling a little gimmicky; then again, those things are ubiquitous these days.
A worthwhile if occasionally clumsy children’s mystery for kids and tweens.