At the end of this school year, one of my students handed me three novels as a gift. In a letter, she explained that her mother, who'd tragically passed a year before, had been in a writing critique group with all three of the books' authors. My student (we’ll call her Pixie Girl) knew I loved to read, so her gift was ridiculously thoughtful. I cried. Buckets. One of the books that Pixie Girl gave me was Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.
Book Scavenger follows Emily, a girl whose family moves about once a year, to fulfill her parents’ dream of living in each of the fifty states. When Emily finds out that her parents are moving to San Francisco, the home of Emily’s favorite literary personality, Garrison Griswold, she’s more than thrilled. Emily participates in Griswold's online game called Book Scavenger, where readers hide books, post clues about where to find them online, and then earn points when they discover a book in the real world. Emily discovers that she has accidentally found the first clue in Garrison Griswold's newest Book Scavenger game when she and her friend James find a copy of The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe in a BART station. Emily and James must then find the solution to the riddle before someone takes them out of the game.
I really enjoyed this story. It is a well-paced mystery that reminded me a lot of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Bertman does a wonderful job of letting clues out a little at a time, which leads an adult reader to solve the problem by themselves, just before Emily does. I loved the fact that Bertman also printed each of the codes used within the book and clearly did her research into many different types of ciphers. Emily and James also feel like two normal kids with no special powers aside from the fact that they have both been solving ciphers for so long that it comes naturally to them. And the fact that one of the minor antagonists was a teacher also made me smile. (Trying to say something there, Pixie Girl? ;) )
Book Scavenger is a middle grade novel which may dissuade some adult readers, but I enjoyed the quick and entertaining read. As an adult, I did see a lot of the reveals coming and wasn’t surprised when suspicious characters turned out to be bad guys. Also, there was an incident in the book between two characters which resolved itself more easily that it would have between adults, but it accurately portrayed a relationship between two friends who are best friends one minute, are frustrated with each other the next, and then patch things up the next day. In my experience as a classroom teacher, I think this book is a perfect fit for any reader between ages 9-14.
Book Scavenger was selected as the Youth’s One Book, One Denver title, and I can see why. It is a cute story of friendship and a well thought out mystery that middle grade readers will enjoy. Also, after reading the book, if you would like to participate in the Book Scavenger game, you can because it exists in real life! Go to www.bookscavenger.com for more details. Thank you, Pixie Girl!
Emily has, thankfully, found a way to cope with the unrelenting summer heat: she's found a quiet corner at the local library where she can read with a water bottle full of iced tea. She's hoping the heat will go away soon so she can cuddle with the Beyond the Trope mascot again!