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*Madhattan Mystery* by John J. Bonk - middle grades book review
Madhattan Mystery
by John J. Bonk
Ages 8-12 304 pages Walker May 2012 Hardcover    

An experienced musical-comedy performer and graphic novel artist, John J. Bonk’s first novel for children is filled with action, clues, real-life family struggles and the exciting atmosphere of downtown Manhattan.

Madhattan Mystery is the story of 12-year-old Lexi and her 10-year-old brother, Kevin, who are visiting New York City for a few weeks while their father is away on his honeymoon with his new wife, Clare. Not surprisingly, Lexi does not like Clare and misses her mother, who died a few years ago.

The children are staying with their Aunt Roz, an actress. The plan is for the children to attend a summer day camp known as City Camp. Aunt Roz’s half-Jewish, half-Chinese neighbor, Kim Ling, is also schedule to attend the camp. Kim has an unusual personality, always looking for a scoop and pursuing investigative journalism.

The mystery begins when Lexi overhears some men talking in the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station when they arrive in New York. The men are talking about where to hide some jewels, possibly below Grand Central Station. The next day, Lexi learns that Cleopatra’s jewels have been stolen on their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there is a reward for anyone who has a clue to finding the culprit.

At this point the adventure begins. Although they do contact the police, the children pursue the missing jewels on their own, enlisting the help of a homeless girl who introduces them to the world below the station. Lexi is very alert to clues all around her, men in dark clothes, mysterious cars, etc. She also struggles with the memory of her mother and often slips into daydreams of the reward money and convincing her father to end his new marriage.

Each day, the children ditch camp and find additional clues, having to lie to continue their adventures. Lexi is superstitious and looks for signs to make decisions. She believes that white feathers are signs from her mother, an angel. Kevin just comes along for the ride, and Kim believes that she has all the answers and puts them in more dangerous circumstances.

The happily-ever-after ending will be satisfying to young readers. Children who enjoy adventure and fast-paced action will enjoy the mystery; those with similar family situations will connect with the characters.

Bonk tackles a number of issues behind the adventure—loss, recovery, and homelessness, but these aspects help the reader to relate to the characters and consider more than just the mystery. He captures the flavor and excitement of New York City–in Aunt Roz’s major part in a play and bit role on a television program as well as the description of the city, especially Grand Central Station and Central Park.

Give this book to children who love adventure and mystery. Fans of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and E.L. Kongisburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler are sure to enjoy.
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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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