Plotlines abound, including kidnapping and catching crooks, in Adelman’s work of fiction for chapter-book and middle-grade readers.
Sam, 13, attends middle school in Seattle. She’s on the basketball team, participates in school plays and volunteers at the local community center. She has Down syndrome, which she doesn’t seem concerned about. That she’s an uber-active young teen with developmental differences isn’t hard to swallow; the suburban shuffle from one organized activity to another will ring true for most kids. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue and descriptions won’t, such as when, after a loss, Sam’s basketball coach blandly asserts, “These kids make a great team and they’ll win other games.” Fortunately, the adults are relegated to supporting roles in Sam’s life. Via her diary entries and conversations, readers learn that Sam looks forward to a visit from her Uncle Alex, who is serving in Iraq. Although she’s counting the days until he arrives, she has plenty to do in the meantime. While volunteering at the community center, she grows fond of Michael, a soldier who returned from combat in Iraq after suffering a traumatic brain injury. Sam also encounters some rough characters at the community center. Although she recognizes they’re similar to the bullies at her school, she also realizes they’re more dangerous. When she and her 9-year-old brother, John, notice that the shady guys showed up about the same time the center’s cash donations disappeared, they hatch a plan to catch the thief, using John’s toy spy gear. Then Michael is kidnapped. Sam finds it hard to leave such worries to the police and other authorities. While the ending wraps up a little too neatly, this ambitious book for children hits the mark more often than not. There’s a lot to like about a mystery/adventure for preteens that takes on bullying, disabilities and a girl’s growing need for independence, and Adelman manages to weave each of those topics into a compelling story for young readers.
Aside from some overly didactic dialogue, kids will relate to Sam and her journal, and the characters and themes offer much to consider.