Madhattan Mystery. by John J. Bonk. May 22, 2012. Walker & Company. 304 pages. ISBN: 9780802723499
While their father honeymoons with his new bride, Lexi and her little brother Kevin are staying with their Aunt Roz in Manhattan, where they are scheduled to attend a city summer camp. On the first day of the visit, in the Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Station, Lexi overhears two men discussing plans to steal some jewels. The next day, the jewel heist is all over the news! With some coaxing from her aunt’s neighbor, a Chinese-Jewish New York native named Kim Ling, Lexi decides to skip City Camp and instead solve the mystery. This leads to adventures on the streets of Manhattan, as well as the basement of Grand Central and everywhere in between.
This book deserves credit, first and foremost, for including a homeless teen as a supporting character. Melrose Merritt, whom Lexi, Kevin, and Kim Ling meet on their first foray into the hidden corners of Grand Central, becomes a friend to the group, and she proves to have as much in common with them as any other kid. Instead of being an object of pity or mockery, Melrose is an integral part of the story with a fully developed personality and a strong desire to become an actress. Though Lexi makes some mistakes in some of her naive assumptions about Melrose, the story itself reaches beyond stereotypes, and that is very refreshing. Kim Ling, too, has this great, big personality which makes a nice foil for Lexi’s nervous, overprotective, and worried outlook on things.
Another aspect of the story that really sticks with me is the memories Lexi has of her deceased mother. Flashbacks of Lexi’s time with her mom are infused throughout the book at critical moments, slowly sharing with the reader the story of Lexi’s mother’s death and how it has affected Lexi. Though it is a mystery, the book is also about Lexi’s healing process and how her experiences in New York help her treasure her mother’s memory without having to remain stuck in the past.
The mystery plot itself isn’t the strongest, and I was never that interested in whether the kids actually find the jewels or not. It is neat to think about the secrets of Grand Central Station, and I like that they were incorporated into the mystery, but the mystery seemed like an excuse to explore those secrets, rather than the central focus of the story. I also had some trouble believing the ending. I think it can be difficult to provide a happy ending that doesn’t feel too neatly wrapped up, so I want to be somewhat forgiving, but at the same time, Lexi’s apparent change of heart about her stepmother comes about too easily, and the ultimate resolution to the mystery itself is equally unconvincing.
Finally, just a word about the cover. It's pretty much perfect. It advertises exactly what the story is about and also manages to reveal each character's personality as well as the nature of the relationships between those characters. The cover is what drew me to the book, and I have no doubt it will draw in kids as well.
Give this book to middle graders who have enjoyed these other city-based mysteries: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
I borrowed Madhattan Mystery from my local public library.
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