The Wig in the Window is a middle grade mystery featuring a pair of 12-year-old sleuths and best friends. Sophie and Grace are next door neighbors in the small town of Luna Vista, CA. The girls' FBI-obsessed efforts to spy on their neighbors go awry after they observe bizarre behavior by Ms. Agford, the counselor at Sophie's middle school. (Grace is home-schooled.)
The Wig in the Window is ever so slightly over the top, which keeps it middle grade reader friendly despite some dark elements. There's a clique of do-gooder girls that virtually amounts to a cult. Sophie has an obsession with Chinese culture, The Art of War, and feng shui. She becomes ostracized at school after a single incident. And, as the narrator, she displays a dry sense of humor. Like this:
"My grandpa spent his days playing canasta with other veterans down at the VFW, a club for Veterans of Foreign Wars. (Besides the Civil War, were there any non-foreign wars?)" (Chapter 3)
"Students bearing unwieldy instrument cases and mangled lunch bags poured forth. Marissa and her friends arrived as a set, looking like displaced flight attendants as they strode along the sidewalk, their matching rolling backpacks in tow." (Chapter 15)
The friendship between Sophie and Grace, which we see filtered through Sophie's perceptions and mis-perceptions, is complex and conflict-filled, lending another layer of drama to The Wig in the Window. I actually preferred Sophie's new friend, Trista, over Grace. Trista is an outcast who doesn't seem to mind her lack of social position, who befriends Sophie when others cast her aside. Sophie's hint of a developing relationship with a book in her class didn't quite work for me for some reason, but is a very minor part of the book, and may add interest for middle school readers.
I am always on the lookout for middle grade mysteries that feature real stakes and active investigation on the part of the protagonists, and The Wig in the Window fits the bill. The mystery in The Wig in the Window is not watered down for young audiences, though Kristen Kittscher uses middle-school-appropriate humor to keep things accessible. The balance between having kids running around investigating on their own and having them get in trouble with concerned parents is a tricky one, but I think that Kittscher nails it. You also have to love an author who can use the word "recapacitate" in a sentence (Chapter 22). Recommended for mystery fans, ages 9 and up, particularly girls.
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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