YA – The Box in the Woods

Johnson, Maureen. The Box in the Woods. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-03260-6. 383 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

In July of 1978, Sabrina Abbott was breaking the rules, something this too good girl had never done. She and her friends paid dearly. Student sleuth Stevie Bell, known for solving the unsolvable Ellingham Academy case is home for the summer, working the second shift at the deli counter of her town’s local grocery store in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Desperate for her next case – or something more interesting than thinly sliced meat and cheese – Stevie receives an email referencing Camp Wonder Falls, and Stevie being Stevie knows this is the Camp Wonder Falls with the box in the woods murders. The email’s sender, Carson Buchwald, knows of Stevie’s talent for crime solving, and he wants to give Stevie full access to the camp, now known as Camp Sunny Pines, in exchange for her help in creating a true-crime podcast/documentary. Stevie and her friends will be counselors at camp, but Stevie really will focus on the case. Of course, her parents never will let her go for a decades old murder investigation, so Stevie has to get creative. Once at camp, Stevie enjoys time with her friends and barely tolerates the outdoors, but having real life family members of victims is harder than Stevie thought. Then an eerie message appears on Stevie’s bedroom wall – much like the one at Ellingham – and Stevie realizes not everyone is happy with Carson’s plan to  drudge up buried memories. Someone definitely doesn’t want the truth to surface, but that’s never stopped Stevie before.

THOUGHTS: Fast-paced and twisty, this thriller/mystery works best if you have the context of the series, but it can be read as a stand alone. A must purchase for high schools where mysteries are in demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Stevie Bell is back. With the Ellingham mystery solved and summer in full swing, Stevie’s life has returned to “normal” until she receives an email from Carson Buchwald, owner of Camp Sunny Pines in Massachusetts. Previously Camp Wonder Falls, where four gruesome murders happened in July 1978, Carson wants Stevie’s help to solve the “Box in the Woods” murders for his podcast. Stevie is intrigued by the request and accepts a position at the camp, along with Nate and Janelle, so that she can investigate the murders further. As Stevie learns more about the murders, she realizes that the town, and those who were there in 1978, are not sharing the whole truth. While she delves into the details and ultimately figures everything out, Stevie must also deal with David and her relationship, whatever it may be, with him.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating chapters of present day with Stevie and flashbacks to July 1978, Maureen Johnson adds another delightful mystery to her repertoire. The only downside to this stand-alone is that I wish it weren’t a stand-alone. Stevie Bell is a fantastic character who is the perfect 21st Century detective. Readers want (and need) more of Stevie, Nate, Janelle, and David.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Super Puzzletastic Mysteries: Short Stories for Young Sleuths from Mystery Writers of America

Grabenstein, Chris, et. al. Super Puzzletastic Mysteries: Short Stories for Young Sleuths from Mystery Writers of America. 978-0-062-88420-6. 378 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Inspired by Encyclopedia Brown books, Chris Grabenstein assembled a collection of short story mysteries to challenge readers’ deduction skills. Written by twenty middle grade and YA authors, each mystery offers the opportunity to see if you can find the clues, eliminate the red herrings, and arrive at the correct solution. Answers and explanations are provided at the end of the book. The contributing authors range from famous (Alane Ferguson, Stuart Gibbs, Chris Grabenstein, Lauren Magaziner) to familiar (Lamar Giles, Kate Milford, Peter Lerangis) to new discoveries (Tyler Whitesides, Bruce Hale, Gigi Pandian), and mysteries skip from fairly easy to totally devious. These stories will definitely challenge readers’ critical thinking skills.The anthology will please diehard mystery fans of all ages, or provide a fun read-aloud classroom activity. Readers will enjoy connecting with the work of favorite authors, but more exciting, will be introduced to new authors and books.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful, long overdue modernization of the Encyclopedia Brown two-minute mysteries. The puzzles are generally challenging, but fair, although one or two seemed like the solution required a large leap of logic. A recommended purchase for middle grade libraries.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD