Vaught (Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry, 2016, etc.) examines the limits of expectations and electrical currents.
Under the care of Toppy, her cantankerous grandfather, white, decidedly unsentimental Maxine Brennan is working off a grounding by critiquing sentimental movies and modifying the electronics on her motorized wheelchair. When a hacker threatens Toppy and the town of Blue Creek, Tennessee, with the legendary “Thornwood’s Revenge,” 12-year-old Max channels her favorite comic-book superheroes and vows to save the day. High-tech jargon and spooky-old-house trappings collide as Max explores the home and history of the late Hargrove Thornwood, the legendary town villain. Meanwhile, Max must control her temper and face her estranged mother. The characters’ small-town familiarity and police chief Toppy’s ignorance of technology allow Max to handle aspects of the criminal investigation that would likely be forbidden in real life. However, such leeway also allows Max to learn the limits of her chair and herself. Max’s emotional growth creates more impact than the mystery’s resolution; the culprit is barely developed. The rift between Max and her mother resolves far less neatly; the author’s frank inclusion of the environmental and financial barriers between them highlights an often overlooked angle of disability, lending reality to the occasionally implausible proceedings.
Stubborn and clever without being superhuman, Max is a refreshing heroine who rises above a so-so mystery. (Mystery. 9-12)