Confession: I’m a sucker for middle grade mysteries! They take me back to the days of yore when I had nothing to do with my time other than climbing trees and riding my beloved mountain bike around the neighborhood. Boy do I wish I held on to that old bike. We had us some good adventures around the mean streets of Santee, California (the armpit of San Diego).
But I digress, this is a quality read, even for the not-so-young adults who love a good dog-themed mystery. CeeCee especially loved the two preteen detectives who stopped at nothing in the name of canine justice. Woof!
The gist: Two kiddos, ZeeBee and Keenan, form a friendship while tracking down the murderer of ZeeBee’s beloved neerdowell dog Barney. They have their work cut out for them because practically all the Centerville Island townies have ample motives for snuffing out the massive beast.
What I liked: What didn’t I like about this book? It’s got everything I love about YA fiction: mystery, treasure hunts, bike—riding adventures and puppy sidekicks. What really makes this book unique is the little island of Centerville. Located on the Canadian-Michigan border, it’s a hop, skip and a jump from one country to another. I just loved the descriptions of the quaint little touristy village, which took me back to my vacations in Traverse City and Mackinac Island. I also really loved that it is packed with gangster legends and lore—such fun!
Favorite character: I saw SO much of myself in ZeeBee, so she won my heart. Although I wanted to smack her upside the head every time she ignored her poor little dog, Barney Two. Wracked with grief over her murdered dog, she couldn’t bring herself to love another pooch, but despite her indifference, that poor little fluffy spaniel loved her fiercely. Alas, the heart wants what the heart wants. Dogs are kind of funny that way, aren’t they?
Aside from ZeeBee’s misguided ways, I truly felt for her when she was the outsider looking in at all the cool kids having fun at the park. Branded as “that weird girl who is obsessed with gangster history,” she gave up on making friends (of the human variety) until Keenan came along. She was further isolated by the wonky school districting that forced her to attend a school across the island, away from all the kiddos in her hood. So yeah, it’s hard not to empathize with a lonely social outcast like ZeeBee. But don’t worry, dear readers, things have a way of working out. This is a YA book after all.
Thoughts on the mystery: I have to hand it to the author, this is a solid whodunit that really kept me guessing! Could the murder have been committed by the elderly sisters who hated Barney for trampling their prize-winning plants? Could it have been the local grocer who was terrorized by the massive beast in search of snacks? Or perhaps it was the uptight soccer dad around the block who was bitter about Barney demolishing his fence! There are so many suspects, so many clues—and it all leads back to the fascinating prohibition-era gangster lore. Such fun!
Overall: This is my first introduction to Gordon Korman’s mastery of children’s fiction, and now I know why he’s so wildly popular. If you enjoy a good story with lovable, quirky characters, snappy dialogue, fun settings, mystery and lore, this book is for you! I would love to see more adventures of Barney Two, ZeeBee and Keenan, but sadly I think this is a standalone.