Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Book Review: Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner, The London Eye Mystery
Set up an impossible premise, throw in a cast of interesting characters, then deliver: that's how you write a page-turner mystery that gets everybody reading.
Impossible premise: someone enters a London Eye pod but doesn't disembark. Poof! He disappears.
Interesting characters: Ted, a highly functioning autistic weather-enthusiast, his alternately rebellious and conscientious sister, Kat, and a tempest of a character, Aunt Gloria.
Impossible premises and quirky characters are easy to conjure up. But I am sure you've read, just as I have, books that set up their high stakes and end with resolutions that are lame and unsatisfactory, and you feel cheated.
The London Eye Mystery gives the reader as much a chance to solve the mystery as the protagonist. It combines the best of the old-style mysteries in which experienced readers know which details to remember and which characters to mark with a flag, and the newer, character-driven mysteries in which readers get into the emotions and not just the minds of the mystery-solver.
Writing about autism in a first person point-of-view takes guts, and compassion. Ted is rendered as a intelligent, sensitive kid who doesn't just worry about navigating his confusing world, but also cares about people and wants to do the right thing.
The author writes with the same understanding and compassion for the other characters. There are no cardboard-box meanies or saints. Even the estranged father of the boy who disappeared who has been portrayed badly earlier in the book comes across as a sympathetic person after we meet him.
If I had any concerns as all about the book, it would be the over-abundance of non-literal sayings that Ted's family engages in on a daily basis. They are necessary; readers need to see that Ted doesn't read between the lines easily. But a family with a kid like that would learn to temper their speech, or at least explain themselves afterward.
The other concern is that even though this is a middle-grade book, it's at the high end of the spectrum. Parents of younger readers (say, a precocious seven-year old) of MG books may want to read the book along with their children.