This was a book I picked up for a number of reasons. One, I haven’t read anything by Avi that I didn’t like.Who else can write about anthropomorphic animals? Make historical time periods come alive? Write can't-put-it-down mysteries? This guy has range. But I also picked it up because of the subject matter. I’ve talked before about my soft spot for anything Russian or Soviet, and so, of course, when I saw this was about the Red Scare, I knew had to read it.
Here’s the synopsis (from Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accusing his father of being a Communist, Pete finds himself caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in Pete’s family? At the same time, Pete’s class turns against him, thanks to similar rumors spread by his own teacher; even Kat, Pete’s best friend, feels the pressure to ditch him. As Pete follows the quickly accumulating clues, he begins to wonder if the truth could put his family’s livelihood--and even their freedom--at risk.
In the tradition of his Newbery Honor book Nothing But the Truth, Avi’s newest novel tells a funny, insightful story packed with realistic period detail of a boy in mid-twentieth-century America. Its unique look at what it felt like to be an average family caught in the wide net of the Red Scare has powerful relevance to contemporary questions of democracy and individual freedoms.
Here’s what I loved:
1. An excellent beginning and ending line. I suppose I’ve been paying attention to this more, since I’ve been learned about techniques like mirroring and narrative patterning. But if you get a chance to read this—read the first and last line. Masterful!
2. A narrator who writes like a crime writer. One of my favorite parts of this book was how the narrative was written (by the protagonist) in the style of Sam Spade. This was a great way to show the scenes through Pete’s eyes, build his character, and make otherwise boring descriptive passages more interesting.
3. Lots of twists and turns. This was a book that was hard to put down, because reveals were built on reveals, each more interesting than the next. As a writer, it shows me how much a solid and interesting back story matters.
4. A time period I didn't know much about. I learned a lot from this book, especially about communists during the Great Depression. Fascinating.
5. Family-centered plot. Since most MGs involve characters escaping their parents, it’s always refreshing to read about a protagonist who’s fighting to preserve his dad’s good name, standing by his family at great cost.
If you liked any of Avi’s other books, especially his historicals or mysteries, like MIDNIGHT MAGIC, I think you would love this. It would also appeal to fans of Gary Blackwood, who also writes suspenseful stories that just happen to take place in other eras. Readers interested in McCarthyism and the Cold War would enjoy this. Check it out!
Have you read any great historical mysteries lately?
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To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.