Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Middle-Grade Review: Notorious

Last month, in need of something light and fun in my book life, I listened to the latest middle-grade novel from Gordon Korman, Notorious, on audio. It fit the bill perfectly! Like most of Kormon's novels, it is an interesting, warm, suspenseful story with plenty of humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Twelve-year-old Keenan has lived an exciting life, moving from one continent to another with his mother and his step-father, who both teach at international schools around the world. He was enjoying their latest home in Shanghai when he contracted tuberculosis ... yeah, really! He moved back to the U.S. to recuperate at his father's house. Only his father's house is just barely in the U.S., on an island called Centerlight located right on the U.S.-Canadian border. So, his dad's house is in Michigan, but the neighbor a few doors down lives in Ontario. It's even stranger in the middle of town, where the international border zigzags through downtown, with double post offices, police forces, and other government services and no official border crossings. While resting in his dad's backyard (TB leaves you with no energy), a girl named Zarabeth--but known as ZeeBee--comes into the yard and introduces herself. ZeeBee has all the energy Keenan is missing and talks a mile a minute, but she's interesting and entertaining. She knows all about (is maybe even a little obsessed with) the island's unique history; being located on the border and isolated on the island, it was a hotspot for smuggling during the Prohibition era. And she is convinced that her dog, Barney, was murdered by one of the many people on the island who hated the large, aggressive dog. She considers Barney 2, her new dog, a seriously-lacking replacement. Over the course of the summer, as Keenan begins to heal, the two friends investigate Barney's death and learn more about the island's history, as the stakes get higher and higher.

Notorious is a wonderfully complex and twisty mystery, with plenty of surprises in store, but this delightful novel offers more than just action and suspense. It is also a story of friendship and family, with plenty of warmth and humor woven in. I also found the history in the book fascinating, filled with gangsters and criminal activity from the 1920-30's. Both Keenan and ZeeBee are fun, likable characters that you want to root for. This was the perfect audiobook for me right now, and I'm sure both kids and adults will enjoy it--it's a great book for families to read or listen to together.

320 pages, Balzer + Bray
I also recommend Kormon's wonderfully exciting and action-packed sci fi thriller trilogy, Masterminds, that features his same warm, witty suspense with realistic kid characters. 

Listen to a sample of the excellent audiobook, read by multiple narrators, here and/or download it from Audible. In this sample, Keenan describes the island and his current situation.

You can purchase Notorious from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Notorious from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I just read in the paper today about a town that straddles the Netherland/Belgium border and that under COVID-19 orders, the Belgian stores are closed while the Dutch ones are open!

    1. Oh, how interesting!! That would be tricky... We are in DE but very close to the PA border, so that has created some issues with each state having its own rules (and DE not allowing out-of-staters in!)