North of Nowhere is a new standalone middle grade novel by Liz Kessler, author of the Emily Windsnap series (which I've heard good things about, but never read). 13-year-old Mia's 8th grade spring break plans crash and burn when her grandfather disappears from his home. Mia has to accompany her worried mother to the tiny seaside town of Porthaven, where there's no cell phone service or Internet, to help Mia's grandmother.
Things get more interesting when Mia starts exchanging notes with a girl her own age in diary left in a boat regularly tied up at an old pier. Dee lives on an island two miles away in the harbor. Mia's plans to meet up with Dee never quite work out, however, and when a boy named Peter disappears, Mia realizes that something strange is going on. I won't say more, because the fun of North of Nowhere lies in figuring out what's happening.
North of Nowhere is a nice mix of suspense and family relationships. The plot is complex, full of threads that don't all tie together until the very end of the book. It's a great book to read in sections before going to sleep at night, so that you can think about what might be going on. Letters exchanged between Dee and Mia (rendered even in the ARC in different fonts) serve to break up the text, and help make North of Nowhere a quick read.
Mia (real name Amelia) has an authentic teen girl voice, a bit self-absorbed, but funny. Like this:
"Amelia, darling," she called from the kitchen. "Before you go out, I'd like to ruthlessly destroy your life by taking you to the middle of nowhere, where you'll die a slow death from boredom, loneliness, and a general lack of anything that makes life worth living."
OK, to be fair, those weren't her precise words. What she actually said was, "Amelia, pack a bag. We're going to your gran's."
Which amounted to the same thing."
"For once, I was up and dressed before Mom called me. She knocked softly and poked her head around the door.
"Good grief," she said, looking at her watch. "Has my watch stopped? Or am I still asleep and dreaming?"
Yes, ha-ha, Mom. Very funny." (Chapter Four)
Though North of Nowhere is set in the UK, there's little to make it inaccessible to young readers in the US. Parents may need to explain that pubs in the UK are community meeting places, more so than here in the US, and that it's not weird for Mia to be helping out in the one that her grandparents own. But Mia's attachment to her phone and desire for Internet access are universal.
I thought that another girl introduced mid-way through the book wasn't as well developed as Mia, but I quite liked Peter. I also enjoyed the small town, seaside setting - I could practically smell the fish market. But what I liked most about North of Nowhere was mulling over the plot.
North of Nowhere is sure to please young readers who enjoy putting together the pieces of a mystery, boys or girls. The cover is gorgeous (and boy-friendly), too. Recommended!
Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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