I'm always interested in finding more children's and young adult mysteries. So when I heard about Tim Tharp's Mojo, a YA murder mystery by a an author who previously won a National Book Award, I was interested. And Ms. Yingling liked it (and considers it edgy but still appropriate for middle schoolers), so I decided to give it a look. My own feelings about the book ended up being a bit more mixed.
Mojo begins when high schooler Dylan finds classmate Hector Maldonado dead in a dumpster (this is not described very graphically). The police (after harassing Dylan and his friend Randy) quickly close the case, declaring Hector's death a drug overdose. Dylan doesn't buy it. When he continues to obsess about the lax police investigation, his best friend Audrey suggests that he instead focus on investigating the disappearance of the rich and pretty Ashton Browning (who attends a different school). Dylan, motivated in part by the $100,000 reward that Ashton's parents put up, and in part by the need to prove himself (and gain "mojo"), begins to investigate.
Mojo is twisty and suspenseful. I was never completely sure what was going on. I like that Tharp addresses racism and homophobia (Audrey is gay), both in realistic ways. I like Dylan as a character. He's quirky but determined, and surprisingly loyal (even to Ashton, who he's never met). His relationships with Audrey and Randy are realistic. He admits freely that he does "carry a few extra pounds", and his passion for hamburgers is unabashed. He loves his parents, even though he doesn't let them in on what's really going on in his life.
Dylan's voice is blunt, self-deprecating, and often funny. Like this:
"Audrey and I had to grab a seat in back, which was fine. I didn't want to stick out as the guy who only spent time with Hector in the Dumpster after he was already dead.
I'd never been to a Catholic funeral before. My parents aren't exactly into organized religion. On Facebook, under Religion, they entered spiritual. But I have to say this for the Catholics--they really know how to put on a show. And I don't mean that in any kind of disrespectful way. I don't usually call clothes garments, but the priest running the program had some mega-cool garments going on. The hat alone made you feel like, This is going to be serious." (Page 19-20)
Dylan is baffled at the notion that someone would turn in people who are in the country illegally, but he also is quick to leave Randy behind when he has the chance to hang out with people who are new and more interesting (which I thought was completely realistic). I also found realistic Dylan's struggles to get around to investigate without a car (particularly after he creates a rift with Audrey).
So, there are a lot of things to like about Mojo. But, here's what bothered me about it. I'm going to try to talk about this without spoilers, but it's a bit tricky. Dylan is a fairly sharp kid. He's used to being picked on a bit at his rough and tumble public high school. But when Dylan becomes involved with several wealthy kids from Ashton's posh private school, he just ... believes everything that they tell him, despite warnings from Audrey and Randy that these rich aren't really his friends. I wanted to shake Dylan for being so dumb. Of course I've read a lot of books, and seen a lot of movies and television shows, so perhaps I'm more cynical than the target reader for Mojo. But I still found it difficult to enjoy the book because I just didn't find Dylan's reactions (particularly in the later part of the book) plausible.
So there you have it. Mojo is a fairly edgy YA mystery, one that isn't afraid to take on issues of race, class, and discrimination, but never lets these things dominate over the suspenseful plot. Mojo features a strong protagonist, and lets that protagonist be overweight, without making a major issue out of it. Mojo didn't quite work for me, but I'm sure that there are lots of readers out there who will enjoy it. And it certainly fills a need for boy-friendly young adult mysteries. Librarians for middle school or high school will want to give this one a look.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).