The Secret Box

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Secret Box Book Poster Image
Magic, math, myths fill fast-paced, perilous series start.

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

Educational Value

Although there's a definite kitchen-sink quality to the barrage of facts, mythology, trivia, and problem-solving tactics here, many such bits will be young readers' first introductions to subjects from Pandora's box to the Lincoln Memorial to geocaching. A math-based strategy for pinpointing a location based on distance will have many kids getting out maps and compasses.

Positive Messages

Messages about teaming up and pooling talents to solve problems, the strong bonds and love among friends and family members, as well as courage, persistence, and taking responsibility.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jax's lively imagination and frequent curiosity often get her into trouble. Before the story starts, she's been banned from a local store because she stole a Snickers bar to see what it felt like and got busted on the way to return it. She and her cousins often lie to their parents, keep them in the dark, and disobey them; they also break into a house and a motel room in their efforts to recover the mystery box. But all three cousins mature a good deal in the course of their adventure and bring a number of family secrets to light. Although two adult characters are sinister villains, Jax's mom and her cousins' parents are all loving and supportive and always there for their kids.


Much of the plot hinges on efforts to keep a magical object with evil powers out of the wrong hands. The villains kidnap one character and threaten others with weapons, as well as breaking into a car, to get what they want. One of the kids is a game developer and spends a lot of time with his online pals creating gory games. This involves discussions of a scene requiring more blood.


One of the big mysteries here is the identity of Jax's father, who "did the biological thing -- helped create me -- then disappeared, never to be seen again."


Occasional instances of "pissed" and one of "crap."


Mostly scene-setting mentions of real-life products and businesses, including BMW, Jaguar, Costco, and the Madison Hotel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A woman describes an absent man as getting drunk frequently. The magical object uses mind-altering properties to protect itself. Although some characters quickly recognize the sinister effects and behave wisely, others aren't so lucky and are soon in its power.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secret Box follows cousins Jax, 12, Ethan, 13, and Tyler, 17, trying to solve the puzzle of the box. They frequently show poor judgment and land in hair-raising situations, from disobeying their parents to entering various premises without permission. ("Breaking and entering will look really, really bad on your high-school transcript. It will look bad on all our transcripts. So let's not do this," says Ethan in a vain attempt to be the voice of reason). But over the course of a story that involves archaeology, Greek mythology, online gaming, and using math to solve puzzles, the kids also look out for one another as well as other family members, and they mature a good deal, setting up further adventures to come. Commercial products are part of the scene-setting, and there's occasional use of "pissed," as Jax in particular has a gift for doing the wrong thing and annoying people. This is the first of a planned trilogy. 

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What's the story?

Jaqueline (Jax) Malone's vivid imagination and impulsive behavior have often gotten her in trouble with the hardworking single mom who's trying to raise her right. So when a mysterious package arrives on Jax's 12th birthday, and her mom takes one look at the return address and takes it away, Jax uses her wiles and the help of her cousins Ethan and Tyler to get it back. Soon THE SECRET BOX, which changes hands several times over the course of the story, has the kids embroiled in a perilous, hilarious adventure involving Greek mythology, magical forces, modern-day thieves, and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Is it any good?

Ringwald puts young characters in situations sure to make parents' blood run cold, but there's a madcap, cartoonish quality to the fast-moving plot that keeps things from getting too scary. Cousins/narrators Jax and Ethan are fresh, appealing, and often funny. Their very different voices help move the story along, keep it interesting, and provide insight. The first installment in a planned trilogy, The Secret Box solves some mysteries and leaves plenty for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about finding one or both of your birth parents are so popular. What others have you read or seen in the movies? How do they turn out?

  • What other stories have you read that involve a magical object from ancient times causing trouble in today's world? How does this one compare?

  • Do you think it would be fun to find mystery locations using Tyler's method in the story? How might this skill be handy in real life?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love magic and mystery

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