In this debut YA novel, a tween detective investigates the case of an illegal quarry and a corrupt sheriff in her new hometown.
At age 12, chocolate-skinned Natalie Jasmine Hill wants “to help change this world.” A year ago, when she lived in New Jersey, she solved the case of a drug theft from the hospital where her mother, Lauren, worked. A local paper called her a “kid detective,” and the reputation has followed her to Pembrooke, Maryland. She and her mother recently moved there to be closer to family after Natalie’s father, a pilot, was ruled missing along with his crew when their plane disappeared during a United Nations mission in northern Iraq. Pembrooke is a pretty town, and Natalie already has a good friend, Vivian Chin, and a comrade in Aaron Jenkins, her high school-age cousin. Pembrooke’s only flaw, says Lauren, is Sheriff Richard Anderson—and very soon, it becomes evident that something fishy is going on with the town quarry. Supposedly, it was closed for safety violations, but there have been suspicious accidents and injuries linked to quarry trucks. Natalie decides she needs photographs to prove that the quarry is still operating, and investigates with the help of her friends, incurring the sheriff’s wrath; luckily, she’s got allies like the local newspaper publisher on her side. Changing the world is a tall order, but maybe the group can change Pembrooke for the better. In her novel, former journalist Fields offers a pleasing juvenile detective story that’s especially notable for featuring a diverse cast (including Jenny Merryweather, the African-American publisher), rare in this genre. The heroine’s determination and drive are admirable; overall, the dialogue and relationships between the characters are naturalistic. But besides a subplot regarding Natalie’s overanxious science teacher, the story is a bit thin. Get photos, publish them, and try to nail down the sheriff’s involvement—that’s all there is to it, drawn out through repetitive conversations and plans to accomplish these things and various progress reports. Distracting tense shifts could also use some tweaking (“No one noticed he’d joined their huddle. Bobby is often overlooked. He is a year younger than Mark”).
Light on mystery, but an enjoyable cast enlivens this meddling-kids story.