by Varian Johnson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
When I came across a new book by the author of the Great Greene Heist, I had to put my name on the waiting list – especially when I learned that it was about puzzles and mysteries! It would be perfect for one of my patrons who’s really into Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Book Scavenger.
What a rich, complex story this is! The main storyline is that 12-year-old Candice and her mother move to her grandmother’s old house in South Carolina from Atlanta for the summer while her parents separate. Candice discovers that her grandmother, Abigail, had been knee-deep in solving an old mystery and picks up where she had left off, with the help of 11-year-old Brandon who lives across the street. In solving the mystery and all its accompanying puzzles, they learn a lot about the history of the city and Candice’s grandmother’s involvement. The reader is privy to relevant scenes from the past, which are printed on gray pages, and some pieces of the story from Abigail’s point of view, which are printed on black paper with white letters, and which all come together at the end.
But this is so much more than a simple – or even complex – mystery story. It’s also the story of Candice and Brandon’s personal and family struggles. It’s also overwhelmingly a story of identity, particularly racial identity, both from the 1950s and present-day. There’s so much to chew on that I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. Some of the parts about race relations seemed a bit heavy-handed to me as an adult, but I have a lot of context and it’s probably just right for kids, especially white kids, who may have no context for it. I really appreciated that Johnson included extensive notes at the end about Jim Crow, the end of segregation, and present-day police brutality. As I said, it’s about so much more than the core storyline, and it’s an important story to have today.