A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book includes all the hallmarks of a classic mystery story surrounding an infant in a coma. Connor is a loyal friend, determined to discover the truth, and ultimately justice -- and friendship! -- prevail. But mature details make this a better choice for tweens and up: the plot deals with a baby being shaken and injured, and there's an undercurrent of sexual tension in the book between two 13-year-old boys and an adult au pair.
What's the story?
Here are the facts: Branwell Zamborska's baby half-sister, Nikki, has had a head injury and is in a coma. No one knows whether she will survive. Vivian, the Zamborska's British au pair, has given a deposition that Bran, after showing an unhealthy interest in changing Nikki's diapers, dropped her. Bran has lapsed into silence, unable to speak, and has been placed in an institution while prosecutors ready a case against him. Only his best friend, Connor, believes in him. Connor visits Bran every day and develops a way to communicate with him using flash cards. But instead of telling Connor what happened, Bran uses the cards to send him on a series of errands designed to help him piece together the whole story.
Is it any good?
The engrossing nature of this story can't be denied. It follows the formula of a classic mystery, with red herrings, a climactic revelation, and detective Connor putting the pieces together. Readers will admire Connor's dedication to his friend, and be glad when justice -- and friendship -- prevail.
Unfortunately, none of the key elements -- the characters, the emotions, the psychology -- ring true. E. L. Konigsburg's child characters have always been precociously gifted, but in recent novels, such as The View From Saturday, she has strayed perilously close to making them indistinguishable from very clever adults, and here she goes over the line. Neither Connor (who tells the story) nor Bran are credible young teens; they don't talk -- or, more importantly, think -- like kids at all. And the adults in the story, save Margaret, are just detestable. Readers may also not be convinced by the connection between the nanny's sexual manipulation of Bran and his silence (and be troubled that it is never really called abuse). Though the identity of the culprit will surprise no one, readers might be unsatisfied by the punishment given to the person who actually abused Nikki.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mature material in books for kids and teens. This book features both a badly injured baby and an au pair, who is inappropriately sexual toward a young teen. What age is the book best for? Did the material here surprise you?
Have you read other E.L Konigsburg books? Do you see any similarities between this book and her other works, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? How are her protagonists similar?
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