Missing on Superstition Mountain is a fast-paced adventure novel by Elise Broach, who is the author of Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret. Three brothers - Simon, Henry, and Jack Barker - move with their parents to Arizona. Their parents warn them to steer clear of Superstition Mountain, but since they are vague about why, the boys take it upon themselves to go exploring. What they find - a creepy atmosphere and three human skulls - sparks their interest and sends them, along with a neighbor girl named Delilah, on a hunt around their new town for clues that will lead them to the truth about the mountain’s dangerous secrets.
What I did not realize when I started this book is that it’s part of a trilogy. It’s important to know this ahead of time, because otherwise, the reader will most definitely be disappointed by the lack of resolution at the end of the story. Only one thread of the plot comes to its conclusion in this book, and that conclusion raises as many questions as it answers. The key to enjoying this book is to view it as the first installment of a larger story, rather than a self-contained novel.
That said, this book is very well-executed. Broach’s effortless writing leads the reader seamlessly from plot point to plot point, charting a course that readers will eagerly follow. She builds suspense very effectively and keeps her language simple and straightforward, so that readers graduating from basic chapter books to novels can easily appreciate and engage with the story. Each of the boys has an appealing personality, and their interactions with Delilah - both before they become friends and during the friendship - ring very true.
My favorite of all the kids was Henry, whose budding anthropologist mind provides two of my favorite lines. Twice in the story Henry’s curiosity about other families and their houses is piqued. On page 83, he muses:
Another kid’s family was like a whole other civilization, Henry often thought - different rules and habits, different snacks that were allowed or forbidden, different bedtimes and acceptable television shows.
And on page 194, he goes on to consider:
Other people’s houses were so interesting, Henry thought - like a giant version of the inside of someone’s backpack. There were so many different ways that their owners’ personalities could shine through - in furniture, knickknacks, how messy or neat a place was.
These two descriptions perfectly encapsulate the way kids view their friends’ families and homes, but they also get at the heart of the novel’s fascination with culture and history. Elise Broach herself holds two history degrees from Yale, and she does a wonderful job of sharing her expertise at a developmentally and educationally appropriate level for her readers.
I really enjoyed Missing on Superstition Mountain, and the ending definitely left me hungry for the next installment. Readers - both the reluctant and the enthusiastic - in grades 3 to 5 are likely to react the same way. The second book in this trilogy, Treasure on Superstition Mountain, will be out this October.
I borrowed Missing on Superstition Mountain from my local public library.