Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Holt/Macmillian, 2015 350 pgs
Emily and her family are on yet another move. Her parents run a successful blog called "50 homes in 50 states" and move to a new state every year. This year the family is in California giving San Francisco a try. Right away Emily makes a friend in her upstairs neighbor, a boy named James with an unfortunate cowlick and a shared passion for puzzles and ciphers. Emily's favorite game is called "Book Scavenger" and it is a big interactive scavenger hunt for books hidden by and for a massive on-line community. The game is run by eccentric San Franciscan native Garrison Griswold. Our story begins as Griswold is shot by villains attempting to steal a book that will launch his new interactive game. Emily and James find the book. quite by accident, which leads them off on a rollicking adventure through the city, solving clues and hitting dead ends, all while being chased by the "bad guys". Emily's older brother temporarily leaves his cult-like following of his favorite rock band to join the two friends in their quest. A local bookstore owner and friend of James also pitches in as consultant and support. References to famous landmarks around San Francisco, as well as famous citizens and books are all featured in this homage to the great city. Will the team solve the mystery and find the treasure before the bad guys do? Will Mr. Griswold survive the shooting? Has Emily made her first real friend and fallen in love with her new city only to have it all yanked away in yet another move?
The Book Scavenger has done for bookstores what Mr. Lemoncello's Library did for libraries. I love books that glorify books and this title may be my new favorite. The volume starts out with the description of the on-line game "Book Scavenger", which sounds way more awesome and time better spent than Pokemon GO. Next, we get into the story itself, which begins with a shooting of the game's inventor, who is holding a mysterious new game. Finally, we meet our puzzle loving heroes, who discover the book that will lead them to the new game and the story really takes off. Readers will try to figure out clues right along with Emily and James as they are led from one landmark and book to another. The plot never lags as clues are solved, red-herrings dismissed, and relationships evolve. Bertman offers a surprising amount of character development for a mystery and both Emily and James are fully realized characters, who grow along the way. Kids unfamiliar with Edgar Allen Poe may want to crack into one of his stories, as well as the one of the many books mentioned within the pages. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see a bibliography of the books mentioned at the back of the volume for kids to maybe go onto further reading. Bertman writes a true love-letter to San Francisco and the setting is integral to the overall tale. The plot line of Emily not wanting to move gets solved a little too quickly and easily, but this is a minor quibble. The main mystery is solved in a satisfactorily fashion, the villains are revealed and punished, and the heroes rewarded. This story is a delight for smart kids, mystery solvers, and book lovers. I can't wait for the sequel The Unbreakable Code, which is due for release in April, 2017.