Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Missing: Book 1--Found (3 stars out of 4).
As a science fiction fan, I have read and enjoyed many of the major works in the field, and I have also viewed many of the genre’s best movies and television series. I am surprised that Margaret Peterson Haddix’s work has never been made into movies or television adaptations, because her work tends to be cinematic, if a bit derivative. I would never accuse Ms. Haddix of being too original with her story arcs (we have writers like M. T. Anderson for that), but she does write engaging fiction that, at its best, moves too quickly and smartly to allow the reader to think he or she may have read this type of story before. Her latest effort, Found, begins a new series titled The Missing, and it will become a hit for the same reason the Shadow Children series became popular: young readers have not read and seen this plot yet. Adult readers will instantly recognize the common, almost-too-familiar plot elements brought together for this series, but young readers, who did not grow up with the time travel adventures featured in television programs like Time Tunnel and Star Trek, or books like Asimov’s The End of Eternity, will find the ideas in this new work both intriguing and original. Although I feel déjà vu when I read it, Ms. Haddix is skilled enough that I must confess that I got just as engrossed in the story as my students will.
Thirteen years after a mysterious plane appears with 36 unclaimed babies, Jonah Skidmore and Chip Winston of Liston, Ohio, who happen to be adopted, start receiving threatening letters explaining that they are the “missing” and that they are in danger: “He [Jonah] knew it was just a prank—it had to be—but for just a second, staring at those words, You are one of the missing, he’d almost believed them” (22). Along with Jonah’s (not adopted) sister Katherine, Jonah and Chip begin investigating the strange occurrences, but the more they uncover, the more dangerous and threatening their situation becomes. Jonah and Chip both find information relating their adoption back to an FBI agent named James Reardon, but when they visit him for further information about their birth parents, they are threatened again; Reardon strongly discourages Jonah’s father from inquiring about getting their background through the Freedom of Information Act: “‘Sometimes there are . . . repercussions. I think your son’s documentation is in order, but perhaps if we were forced to revisit his case, we might discover some unfortunate discrepancies” (86). When Jonah goes to the bathroom in the FBI office, he is contacted by a mysterious individual who warns him that he is in danger, and when he returns to Reardon’s office, a file with information on Jonah, Chip, and the mystery that envelops them magically appears on the desk. Katherine manages to take some pictures of the contents, and they connect with the only living witness to the plane’s appearance thirteen years ago, Angela DuPre, and they gather other information about more of the 36 “missing” children. DuPre cannot fill in all of the background details, but she does add one important piece about their past. When Chip asks her if she knows where they came from, she responds enigmatically: “‘Not where, exactly,’” she said apologetically. “‘But I think I might have a pretty good guess about when’” (159). Not coincidentally, all of the “missing” children seem to live in the Liston area, so when a conference addressing the plight of adopted kids is offered by the county, Jonah, Chip, and Katherine all go, knowing it may be a trap, but needing answers. They get much more than they bargained for, and they must make a major decision that will affect the rest of their lives.
Think of Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix as the pilot to a new television series. There is much plot establishment and character development preparing the reader for the rest of the series, and although it starts slowly, it builds quickly towards the end of the novel as the conspiracy theory element, à la Francine Prose’s After, kicks into high gear. Series fans will have little trouble with the slow start; they are used to it. However, readers who like a little more kick to jumpstart their novels should be patient, because the excitement generated by the ending, featuring an intriguing (if not new) time travel element, will leave most readers anxiously waiting for the first actual episode of the story.


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