Balliett delivers a loosely constructed tale about a modern lad who discovers an exciting connection between himself and Charles Darwin. In a box dropped off by his sociopathic father, Zoomy finds a battered old notebook whose unidentified author was—like Zoomy—compulsive about making lists of tasks and methodically checking off each item in succession. The word "Galapagos" and other clues in the book prompt visits to the local library, where Zoomy makes a high-energy new friend in summer visitor Lorrol. Together the two immerse themselves in a study of Darwin's life and plan a series of broadsheets (reproduced within) containing extracts from the scientist's writings. Around these and other info-dumps the author wraps an engaging picture of Zoomy's life with loving, sensitive grandparents. But a rococo chain of events that begins with the notebook's theft and climaxes in a contrived fire seems inserted just to move the plot along while providing a demonstration of small-town values in action. Unlike the author's previous outings, here her enthusiasm for historical research seems to outweigh her interest in creating a well-founded story. (Mystery. 11-13)
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Balliett's (Chasing Vermeer) latest mystery spotlights the life of Charles Darwin with a boy's investigation into a stolen scientific notebook. Zoomy Chamberlain, 12, has bad eyesight, a touch of OCD, and a need for structure ("he smallest changes can make me jittery-splat, as we call it"). Left on his grandparents' doorstep as an infant, his coping mechanism is keeping all kinds of lists. His highly ordered world implodes when his alcoholic father reappears, arriving with things to sell at the family's antique store. One item captures Zoomy's fascination--a careworn notebook. Sensing the journal's author is a kindred spirit, Zoomy researches the journal's provenance, as the man from whom it was stolen closes in. The tension derived from the danger facing Zoomy is halted by faux newspaper articles that offer biographical information about a "mysterious soul," but which read like didactic asides. As in her previous novels, Balliett sets the action in a real town, Three Oaks, Mich., and details about the setting add appeal. Interestingly, the notebook Darwin used during his 1835 visit to the Galápagos Islands really is missing: it disappeared in the 1980s and is classified as stolen. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 5-8--Balliett's latest mystery explores the intricacies of scientific discovery. Wealthy Mr. Zip has arranged for a priceless treasure, stolen years ago, to be delivered to him. He will indulge his dream of savoring this object, and then will return it to society, a magnanimous gesture that will ensure that he is remembered as a hero. Sadly, before the treasure reaches him, Mr. Zip dies of a heart attack. When a mysterious man in possession of the box learns about this, he senses opportunity for personal gain, but before he can learn what he's transporting, his truck is stolen. Switch to our narrator, Zoomy, an engaging 12-year-old who, with pathological myopia, sees the world differently than those around him. Raised by his grandparents, he is pulled into the intrigue when his absent and alcoholic father makes a brief reappearance in his life with the box. Inside, Zoomy and his grandparents find only an old notebook wrapped in a blanket. An inveterate list-maker and notebook-keeper himself, Zoomy immediately falls in love with the journal, sensing a kindred spirit in the creator. He attempts to learn more about its history as the man schemes to reclaim that which does not belong to him, and as issues of The Gas Gazette provide clues but no answers about a "mysterious soul." Balliett demonstrates how danger boxes are all around us--not just as containers of physical objects for which people will hazard a great deal, but as vehicles that expose us to risky ideas and dreams. This highly satisfying story will enlighten readers even as it inspires them to think about their own danger boxes.--Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA[Page 145]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.