A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
As title suggests, story is awash in vocabulary-building words, many with 19th-century flavor. Expect big words like "nefarious," "excruciating." Lots of references to books popular in 19th century, including Treasure Island, works of Jules Verne. Story takes place in alternate version of New York in 1883, with lots of references to (often real) events, people of the time, as well as laws like Chinese Exclusion Act and their real-life impact on people. Section at end explains historical references, a bit about some of the real-life characters.
Strong messages of kindness, empathy, family, friendship, creative thinking. Also being able to change your mind when you get new information, and seeing thing from new viewpoints: "Molly had heard people make awful, hateful comments about Chinese immigrants, read them in newspapers even. She'd never believed the horrible generalizations or understood why people said such things, but she'd also never thought about what it would feel like to hear them if you were Chinese."
Positive Role Models
Feisty 12-year-old Molly and new friend Emmett are both older than their years thanks to ongoing fight for survival, and in Molly's case, need to protect her brilliant but odd mother. They display a lot of courage, thinking outside the box, and determination as their bond develops and they learn to see things from each other's perspective. Both long-lost fathers live on in their kids' hearts and are much missed for their kindness, wisdom. Cassandra, Molly's eccentric mom, is brilliant, courageous, much frustrated by sexist culture of science/technology in her time. Burglary, theft, dodging authorities are frequent, but often on the side of good.
Violence & Scariness
A mad genius plans to seize world power with assorted murderous plots. The death (and possible murder) of parents is a strong theme, as both kids have lost their fathers, Emmett's mother died in childbirth, and Molly's mom is in one life-threatening situation after another. Brain-blasting technology and assorted death machines (some of which may not actually exist, even in the story) play a starring role, and a character is threatened with weaponized electroshock therapy after being taken to an insane asylum.
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One character is fond of exclaiming "Language!" if she even thinks someone is going to use a bad word. As a result, the occasional "Darn!" is about as strong as it gets. References to hideouts being "urine-y."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's a lot to like in A Dastardly Plot, the first book in a new series by Christopher Healy (The Hero's Guide series). Set in an alternative 19th-century New York, it has quirky characters! Quirkier dialogue! Retro science fiction! Mad inventors! Applied science and emerging technology! Also a lot of history and culture, especially about discrimination against women and Chinese people at the time. There's a serious vibe beneath the cartoonish antics, with heavy subjects like the death of parents, imprisonment in a mental asylum, and forced shock treatments being part of the story. It's wacky, poignant, and rousing by turns, which is a bit much to take in sometimes. The conclusion sets up what promises to be many adventures to come.
Is It Any Good?
Christopher Healy launches a wild new series set in 1883 New York, with two resourceful 12-year-olds trying to save the world from wacky inventors. Or maybe help the inventors save the world. The orphan police, the immigration authorities, and two warring gangs of inept criminals add to the craziness, as do a society of (unsung) women inventors and the kids' other allies in foiling A Dastardly Plot. Not all readers will have the patience for all the looniness, with a side of social justice, but there are some great moments setting the stage for future plot developments.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.