The Spaghetti Detectives: Andreas Steinhöfel
Little Blue and Little Yellow: Leo Lionni

Shelter: A Mickey Bolitar Novel: Harlan Coben

Book: Shelter: A Mickey Bolitar Novel
Author: Harlan Coben (Mickey Bolitar website)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Shelter2 I've been a fan of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar series for several years now. The books are mystery/suspense novels published for adults, featuring a former basketball player turned professional agent. I prefer the Myron Bolitar books to Coben's standalone thrillers, though I do generally enjoy those, too. Myron is entertaining but also full of heart, and he is relentless in his pursuit of what's right. His wealthy, brilliant, scary best friend Win  occasionally steals the show.

The most recent book in the Myron Bolitar series, Live Wire, introduced Myron's teenage nephew, Mickey Bolitar. With Shelter, Coben brings Mickey to the forefront and launches a new series written for young adults. 

Mickey Bolitar has spent most of his life traveling to far-flung countries with his parents, who were more or less missionaries. In the past year, however, he has moved to the United States, witnessed his father's death in a car accident, and seen his mother descend into drug addiction. Forced to live with his uncle Myron, who he can't stand, and bullied by a couple of thugs at his new school, Mickey ends up with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. But when a mysterious old woman suggests to Mickey that his father might be alive, and Mickey's new girlfriend disappears without a trace, Mickey finds that he has much bigger things to worry about. Together with two new friends, strays that he has collected from the fringes of the high school pecking order, Mickey sets out to investigate the various mysteries that make up his life.

I think that teens, particularly boys, are going to really enjoy Shelter. Coben lives in suburban New Jersey with his wife and four children. I'm not sure how old his kids are, but he writes Mickey with what seems to me to be an authentic teen voice. Sure, Mickey's an exceptional basketball player who knows martial arts and goes out of his way to defend underdogs. But his insecurities over his mom, his contentious relationship with his uncle, and his struggles with authority at school all feel real. 

Here are a couple of examples of Mickey's voice:

"An orientation should consist of visiting your classes, getting a tour of the facilities, and maybe meeting a few classmates. But no, that's not enough. We had to participate in these moronic, dehumanizing, and totally awkward "team building" exercises." (Chapter 1)

"There didn't seem to be much class warfare here. These kids had been together for so long that they didn't really notice. The so-called outcasts who sat alone had been sitting alone for so many years that it wasn't so much cruelty as habit. I wasn't sure if that was better or worse." (Chapter 2)

"There is no place more hollow, more soulless, than a school at night. The building had been created for life, for constant motion, for students rushing back and forth, some confident, most scared, all trying to figure out their place in the world. Take that away and you might as well have a body drained of all its blood." (Chapter 4)

The secondary characters, particularly Mickey's two new sidekicks, are well-drawn, too. I especially liked Ema, a "big girl" with tattoos who dresses all in black, and has a mysterious home situation. Ema is initially defensive, but also brave, smart, and witty. I hope to see more of her in future books.

The mystery itself in Shelter is more realistic than, say, the Young James Bond or Alex Rider series. Impressive self-defense skills aside, Mickey is a kid, not a secret agent. He doesn't have a driver's license, and has his uncle looking over his shoulder (somewhat). But there are elements like a mysterious watcher in a black car, scenes set in a strip club, and a secret basement hideout below an apparently abandoned building. Shelter is a fast-paced, intriguing mystery that will keep readers guessing to the end, and beyond (the book ends not on a cliffhanger exactly, but with one extremely puzzling question remaining).

I must admit that Shelter was an extra-fun read for me, having read the Myron Bolitar series. Coben actually inter-mixes the timeline of Shelter with the events of Live Wire, a bit, and various characters and references provide additional context for the long-time fan. But I think that Shelter does stand on its own, and that teen readers will like it. Coben certainly leaves the door open for future books in the series, and I hope that these materialize. Recommended for YA mystery fans, and also for adult fans of Coben's books. I think that high school librarians looking for books that boys will like will especially want to give Shelter a look.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Bought it from iBooks to read on iPad 2.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.