Background: What right-minded kid (or former kid, for that matter) could resist a mystery centered around an abandoned, kudzu-covered amusement park? Certainly not me. So when Jenny from Clarion offered me an ARC of Mary Downing Hahn's upcoming title Closed for the Season, I jumped at the opportunity. The book went immediately to the top of my reading list.
Review: In Closed for the Season, 13-year-old Logan Forbes moves with his parents from Richmond to the small town of Bealesville, Virginia. There, Logan and his new neighbor, Arthur, investigate the murder of the previous owner of the Forbes' house. Their search ranges from a dusty attic to a tiny library to a cemetery to to the local Wal-Mart to a nearby abandoned amusement park, the Magic Forest. The Magic Forest is a creepy, vine-covered, snake-filled place, littered with hints of a more festive past. It is the perfect setting for a middle grade/middle school mystery. Here's a brief description:
"Arthur led me down an overgrown path, stopping now and then to examine a crumbling building or the remains of a ride. Here and there, storybook figures emerged from the kudzu, lopsided, grotesque, their noses gone, their fingers missing, their skin leprous with moss and mold. The place was a nightmare version of Mother Goose." (Page 52, ARC)
Closed for the Season is a straight-up mystery, without the supernatural trappings found in many of Hahn's other books. Hahn has a real knack, however, for depicting kid-friendly settings and plots, and for quick, insightful descriptions of people and places. For example:
"Arthur signed. "Grandma and I knew something was wrong. It was one of those weird feelings--you know what I mean?"
I nodded. "Like in a movie, when the music gets scary and you can tell something bad is going to happen?"
"Exactly."" (Page 11, ARC)
"Inside (Wal-Mart), the cold air smelled of popcorn, hot dogs, and unidentifiable synthetic substances. A cheap smell, Mom called it. But no matter how the store smelled, it was better than the heat outside." (Page 73, ARC)
"Violet blew her nose again, and I stole a glance at Danny. He sat there eating his cookies as if they were enemies, biting into them fiercely, chewing hard, and swallowing noisily. He didn't look at anyone. And he didn't say a word." (Page 104, ARC)
Don't you love that? Eating cookies as if they were enemies. Hahn also, as in All the Lovely Bad Ones, is not afraid to include imperfect characters. Arthur, in particular, is downright annoying, a geeky kid who has no idea when he's crossing the line of acceptable behavior. Logan, more conventional and more introspective, struggles between his growing loyalty to Arthur and a wish not to brand himself as unpopular in a new place. This combination of realistic interpersonal dynamics with atmospheric, suspenseful mystery is sure to please kids. Especially those kids who aren't athletes, and have been known to spend an afternoon or two in the local library.
Closed for the Season is Mary Downing Hahn's 30th novel in 30 years, and is dedicated to her long-time editor, James Cross Giblin. I think that the abandoned amusement park setting might be intriguing enough to lure in some new readers for her. I hope so, because this one is a keeper. Recommended, especially for middle grade mystery fans. [The mystery itself is probably not complex enough to satisfy adult mystery fans - the culprit doesn't come as a huge surprise. But for adults wanting to recapture that feeling of riding a bike around during the summer, looking for adventure, this one is not to be missed.]
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: June 15, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared against the final printed book. Cover image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Other Blog Reviews: None yet, but here are my reviews of Hahn's titles Deep and Dark and Dangerous and All the Lovely Bad Ones.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.