Monday, August 2, 2010

For School Sleuths

The title gives a shout out to girl readers. Those middle graders who reach for mysteries when left to choose their own books, will want to read this one.

THE RED BLAZER GIRLS by Michael D. Bell, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

You know you’re in for a bit of mind bending when the copyright page is printed in mirror writing.

This contemporary novel is set in Manhattan in a girls’ Catholic day school. Four seventh grade girls who have a variety of talents and skills band together to help a colorful senior citizen solve a puzzle her own father left to her estranged daughter 20 years ago. Is there a reconciliation? I won’t say. Are there villains? Oh, yes.

The girls notice boys, but giggling about them is not the main way they spend their time. When they become absorbed in the mystery, they don’t hesitate to use their French and Latin, math, and writing skills to tease out the clues that lead to a solution.

The girls collaborate on a skit–-based on Great Expectations–which they act out while the plot thickens all around them. Several pages of math puzzles explained by one of the characters could stop a reader if it occurred early in the book, but by the time this happens, the reader belongs to the group.

Author Bell captures the voices of the girls so well that if he and his wife have teen daughters, he could be a “cool” dad because he understands them. Or they could fuss at him for eaves-dropping.

Is this the beginning of a series? Readers will hope so.

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