Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun characters
Cons: Could have started main story a little sooner
The Bottom Line:
A missing brother
In page turning mystery
Good for everyone
The Hunt for Joel
Normally, a missing child is a parent’s worst nightmare. But for Lost Beneath Manhattan, it becomes twelve-year-old Ricky Kidd’s worst nightmare. It makes sense since this is a middle grade novel. And while the story does take the kidnapping seriously, it doesn’t go as dark as it might either since it has the younger target audience.
Ricky’s school class has been planning a trip to New York City for the entire school year. Now they are down to their final chance to raise funds – an end of year play. When Ricky’s six-year-old brother Joel ruins things, they think they are doomed only to wind up getting the funds they need with one catch – Joel has to go with them.
And so Ricky finds himself trying to keep an eye on Joel, which isn’t easy since his younger brother has a habit of disappearing on a regular basis. But when a misunderstanding with a museum guard leads to Joel running away, Ricky fears the worst. Deciding he and his friends are Joel’s only chance, they set out to track him down. Can they do it? What might have happened to Joel?
Author Sigmund Brouwer does a good job of working within the middle grade genre requirements. I mean, we know that Ricky and his friends are going to try to find Joel, but he gives them a good motivation for doing so.
Most books in this series begin with a related short story before we get to the heart of the mystery, but this one really has two. Since it was originally published in the 90’s as the first in the series, this helped set up Joel’s personality. Now that it is in the second half of the reprinted series, it slows things down a bit before we get to the heart of the book, but that second short story is lots of fun.
But when the mystery does begin, it grabs us hard. Even though I’ve read the book a few times now, I still got sucked into the story of trying to find Joel. It had been long enough that I’d forgotten most of the details, so that certainly helped. The use of foreshadowing is a bit heavy handed here, but it does amp up the suspense.
I love the characters in this series. Even though the books are short (less than 150 pages with lots of chapter breaks), we still get to see the different personalities. They add a lot of fun to the series, including some great laughs.
This is a Christian mystery series. As Ricky is searching for his brother, his search takes him to a mission and encounters with the homeless, which gets him wondering how a good God can allow people to suffer like this. This doesn’t slow down the plot at all, yet it adds a depth to the book. It never gets too philosophical, but I like the addition to the store.
I already mentioned that this book originally came out in the 90’s. That’s responsible for some of the dated references, including cameras with film and a date in a newspaper article. They are very minor issues that most kids probably won’t even think about.
This really is a strong book in a strong series. If you are looking for a mystery that will keep you and your middle grader reading, I highly recommend Lost Beneath Manhattan.