A cliffhanger ending will have readers drumming their fingers as they wait for the next episode.

FRIDAY BARNES, UNDER SUSPICION

From the Friday Barnes series , Vol. 2

As in series opener Friday Barnes, Girl Detective (2016), instead of just one mystery, Friday confronts a series of strange happenings in her school, posh Highcrest Academy.

First, Friday finds herself under arrest for terrorism charges. The white schoolgirl quickly uses her encyclopedic knowledge and Holmes-ian sleuthing skills to escape the clutches of the police, but who could have framed her? At school, a series of holes dug all over the campus threatens to injure passing pedestrians, while a new boy, Christopher, charms everyone, especially Friday. She knows that the headmaster would love to find an excuse to expel her, but Friday keeps solving mysteries until she finally discovers why those holes have been appearing and learns the secret identities of some people no one suspected. Spratt continues to hit just the right mix of dry humor and suspense. Her characterization of her protagonist shines: an 11-year-old prodigy with quirky taste in fashion who might just have some real emotional needs lurking under that confident exterior. Readers know that, like Sherlock Holmes, Friday will solve every mystery; the book’s fun is in seeing how she does it. Beneath the fun, Spratt explores questions of class; working-class Friday feels out of sync with the entitled students who surround her.

A cliffhanger ending will have readers drumming their fingers as they wait for the next episode. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-299-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.

NARWHAL I'M AROUND

From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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