Shelter

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Shelter Book Poster Image
Fast-paced YA thriller from "suburban noir" pro.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The solution to the central puzzle of this thriller is based on a fictionalized aspect of the Holocaust. Coben provides facts about the concentration camps in Europe during World War II. Shelter also addresses the serious problem of human trafficking.

Positive Messages

Much of Shelter is concerned with Mickey's ongoing struggle with trust. His mother is in rehab, his father is dead, and he is grudgingly staying with his eccentric Uncle Myron. After his girlfriend disappears, Mickey has to learn that he can't do everything himself and that some of the people who seem to menace him are actually allies. By the end of the novel, he has a better understanding of his parents' legacy and his own capabilities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Still reeling from his father's death and his mother's current stint in rehab for drug addiction, Mickey Bolitar wants to solve his problems with minimal input from adults. Smart, athletic, and compassionate, he sticks up for the underdog and follows through on his commitments. However, he withholds information from adults who might be able to help him. He also engages in illegal activity, such as using fake IDs and "borrowing" his uncle's car with neither permission nor a license. Within a fictional thriller, these habits can be chalked up to creative license, but the real-world consequences for such behavior would probably play out much differently and far more seriously.

Violence

Shelter is fairly violent YA mystery, especially for readers as young as 12. The violence is depicted directly, as when the protagonist is brutally beaten by the adult villains, and indirectly, as in the implications concerning the "dungeon" in the basement of a strip club. Mickey employs his martial arts training against high school bullies (with little physical contact) and against adults (with a good deal of contact). The aftermath of a violent home invasion is depicted. A villain is shot in the head and dumped in the river (though not by Mickey).

Sex

Mickey has a very chaste romantic relationship with Ashley, the girl who disappears at the start of the novel, and he flirts with other girls at the high school. More problematic is the strip club that is central to the plot and the "white slavery" ring that operates from it. Coben acknowledges the realities of sexual trafficking but downplays its full implications.

Language

For all the rough action, the dialogue is amazingly clean.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Throughout the novel, Mickey's mother is sequestered in a rehabilitation center for drug abuse. Her struggles with addiction cause her son great emotional distress and are depicted realistically.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Harlan Coben's first YA thriller has the action and attitude of his best-selling adult mysteries. There's a fair amount of violence, and the solution to the central puzzle involves both the Holocaust and human trafficking.

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What's the story?

Having witnessed his father's death in a car crash and with his mother now in rehab, Mickey Bolitar is finding his first weeks at a new high school difficult. The only bright spot is his new girlfriend, Ashley, and when she disappears suddenly, Mickey vows to learn what happened to her. His quest will involve encounters with a mysterious elderly neighbor known as \"the Bat Lady\" and a creepy stalker with a tattooed face.

Is it any good?

Harlan Coben is the reigning champion of the "suburban noir" genre, and he successfully transfers the smart-alecky suspense of his Myron Bolitar mystery series for adults to this new YA series. SHELTER is full of his trademark plot twists and vision of the outskirts of Newark as a hot-bed of violent intrigue. When focused on Mickey and his high school friends and enemies, Shelter works well. When the action moves to the big, bad city, the strain begins to show. The dialogue becomes more stereotypical, and Mickey's exploits sound a little less believable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what steps people should take if someone they know suddenly disappears. What resources are available to children and young people who lack parental guidance?

  • Mickey's understanding with his Uncle Myron is that he will agree to stay with him as long as Myron doesn't question him too closely about his activities or whereabouts. How realistic is such an arrangement? Does Mickey play fair by that understanding?

  • Mickey and his friends often need to stand up to the bullies who harass them. What are recommended methods for dealing with bullies? When and how should the authorities be contacted? You might want to check out our tips on standing up to bullies

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