Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Middle-Grade Review: The Danger Box

I read my first Blue Balliett novel last year – Hold Fast – and absolutely loved it. Balliett has another hit with The Danger Box, another story about a unique, very likeable kid who helps to solve a mystery and save the day.

Zoomy is a twelve-year old boy who lives in the small, quaint town of Three Oaks, Michigan, with his grandparents. He was left on their front porch as an infant, with a note that he was their grandson, though they hadn’t seen their son, Buckeye, in a long time. Zoomy and his grandparents are happy together, with their little family of three, and Zoomy helps out in the family antique shop in town. He is something of an odd boy (from the way he’s described, it sounds like he has a form of autism), but he manages with the help of notebooks, purple pens, and lists – lots and lots of lists. The lists help him feel more in control.

Zoomy also has a Danger Box, a small wooden cherry crate filled with old shotgun shells, pieces of blown-up firecrackers, and other treasures. One day, their peaceful life is shattered when Buckeye unexpectedly shows up after more than a decade away. He brings an old wooden box into the garage and asks his parents to hold it for him. Inside the box are a tattered old blanket and a very old notebook with a leather cover. Given Zoomy’s own collection of notebooks, he is fascinated and tries to decipher the old-fashioned handwriting in it, eventually adding it to his Danger Box.

Meanwhile, Zoomy makes his first friend, an energetic girl bubbling with enthusiasm named Lorrol. Zoomy and Lorrol are very different, but they are both lonely and love the library and find that they get along well together. They start a newsletter filled with clues to a mystery person and soon the whole town is trying to guess who it is.

Like Hold Fast, this is a complex plot with a mystery at its center and plenty of family drama. The reader goes along for the ride as Zoomy and Lorrol try to unravel the mystery, all while they become good friends and try to save Zoomy’s family. In a puzzle within a puzzle, the reader also gets to read the friends’ newsletters and try to solve that mystery as well. It’s a gripping, compelling story that pulls you right in and doesn’t let go. The old notebook that Zoomy finds is actually a real historical artifact that was stolen many years ago, and it adds to the thrill to know that parts of Zoomy and Lorrol’s mystery is real.

301 pages, Scholastic

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