Ochieng, Patrick. Playing a Dangerous Game. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01913-8. $17.95 186 p. Grades 5-8.
A coming-of-age young adult novel by a skilled Kenyan author, this book offers a glimpse into the life of Kenyan boys in the 1970s. Lumush and his family are doing quite well after his father gets a promotion at his job, but the teenager is understandably worried about changing schools and still being able to relate to his long-time neighborhood friends. As Lumush and his friends hang around after school each day, talking and playing small pranks and games, they eventually work up the nerve to explore a nearby abandoned house that many people think is haunted. What the group find during their explorations is more than they bargained for, and they are caught in the middle of a dangerous, and perhaps murderous, illegal smuggling operation.
THOUGHTS: Mystery, adventure, friendship and personal growth are all major elements of this unique novel. Lumush’s life, including his family, his friends, and his school troubles, are described in rich detail. This book offers a fascinating peek into the lives of Kenyans during the 1970s; although politics and economics are mostly mentioned in passing by adults in Lumush’s life, students with an interest in Kenyan history could use this novel as a way to contextualize the facts found in traditional history books.
Benedict, Marie. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-4926-82721. 272 pp. $26.99. Grades 9 and up.
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days. She left her husband, Archibald Christie, a letter detailing what he must do during her disappearance in order to get what he wants. If he does not follow her instructions precisely, he will lose everything. As Archibald tries to play his part as written, he becomes more overwhelmed with rage towards Agatha and the officers managing the search for her. But, he was not always like this. Told through alternating chapters, the development of and relationship between Archibald and Agatha grows from passionate and spontaneous to rigid, frustrating, and cruel. Agatha does not know how to care for her changed husband, yet she continues to put him before all else including their daughter. Through her work, Agatha finds escape and the ability to use her creativity to craft unsolvable mysteries and her own disappearance.
THOUGHTS: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is an adult novel with great YA crossover appeal. Any reader who loves Agatha Christie (still the best selling author outside of Shakespeare) and a true detective mystery will enjoy this historical fiction text. It is also a wonderful text for introducing further research about the period, Christie’s actual disappearance, or further author studies.
Historical Fiction Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Sullivan, Tom. Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money. (Case Unsolved Crimes). Balzer, 2021. 978-0-062-99151-5 (pbk.). $12.99. 96 p. Grades 3-8.
“I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.” Hi-jacker D. B. Cooper committed one of the only unsolved skyjacking in United States history when he boarded the Northwest Orient Airlines flight traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971. Weak or non-existent airline security gave rise to a rash of plane hi-jackings at the end of the Cold War. Author Tom Sullivan arranges the story according to six different steps and relates the interesting heist peppered with stylistic drawings and facsimiles of boarding passes and other airline paraphernalia. From our 21st century perspective, Cooper’s seemingly modest demand of $200,000 was readily granted by the head of the airline. His well-planned crime, however, did not go smoothly. He requested parachutes and directed where and how he wanted to escape from the plane; however, when the money arrived, it was in smaller denominations making the parachute backpack heavier than he anticipated. After Cooper stepped out of the plane, no trace of him was uncovered despite a thorough FBI search. In 1980, a family camping along the Columbia River uncovered deteriorating packs of $20 bills. This quick, cleverly illustrated book will interest reluctant readers especially.
THOUGHTS: This fun book has broad appeal. Though the information may not be of high value in terms of curriculum, Escape at 10,000 Feet. . . is a perfect match for students who crave short, easy non-fiction with lots of interesting facts.
Graphic Novel Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia
364.15 Criminal Offenses
Bradbury, Jennifer. A Moment Comes. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-1-4169-7876-3. 288p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and Up.
A Moment Comes is set in India during 1947. Great Britain has given up its rule over the Country and is in the process of drawing the “Radcliffe Line”, the border designed to create a new Muslim nation (Pakistan). This is the story of Margaret Darnsley, whose father is a cartographer working on the border. It is also the story of Tariq, a Muslim teenager who desperately wants to study at Oxford, and Anupreet, a young Sikh woman whose face was slashed in a mob attack. Tariq and Anu are employed in the Darnsley household. Anupreet is Margaret’s maid and Tariq is Mr. Darnsley’s assistant. As one might expect, there is some romantic tension between the three teens. Margaret believes she is in love with the exotically handsome Tariq, but Tariq finds himself drawn to Anu. None of these relationships are realized, however; the cultural and religious barriers between the three are simply too high.
The strength of this book is in its depiction of the ever increasing conflict between Muslims and Sikhs. India is a very dangerous place at this time, although the unrest hasn’t really touched the people who are drawing the border. The Darnsley’s own precarious situation changes when a mail bomb is delivered to their house. Tariq intercepts the package (sent by his childhood friend, Sameer) and endangers his own life in the process. Tariq becomes a man without a home; he refuses to join his family in Pakistan, an Oxford education seems impossible, and he is now an enemy to India’s Muslim militants. This novel’s ending seems abrupt and somewhat unrealistic, but this book is still highly recommended. It depicts a time and place in history that is rarely discussed. Margaret, Anupreet, and Tariq are very relatable and students may see themselves in these characters. This book would be a useful complement to the study of Britain’s colonial history.
Historical Fiction (India, Mid-20th Century) Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School