HomeReviewReview: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

book-scavengerThis book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

“Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.”

While I don’t normally read middle grade fiction (not for any particular reason, I just don’t pick them up very often), I’m glad I grabbed this one.  It had a lot going for it from the get-go: it’s set in San Francisco, which is near where I live and moderately familiar to me; it involves a love of books and literature, as well as an online community of book lovers; and the main characters are intelligent puzzle aficionados.

Happily, the plot is just as smart and engrossing as these elements promised it would be.  The author doesn’t dumb down the clues and ciphers that he has his characters solving, and he touches on a huge variety of codes and secret writing.  There’s Ogham, which is an ancient form of writing involving hash marks; there’s the Pigpen cipher, which uses shapes and dots to represent letters; and there’s even the scytale–a strip of paper wound around a dowel that looks like an unconnected string of letters when unwound.  As someone who was into codes and ciphers as a kid–and still am, to be honest–this was a delightful romp through cryptology.

There’s also plenty of literary shout-outs.  Edgar Allen Poe gets the lion’s share, for some very good reasons, but many other characters and authors make an appearance as well.  You’ll find mentions of The Maltese Falcon, Agatha Christie’s novels, and several middle grade classics.  One can’t help but get excited at the prospect of young people being so attached to the reading and sharing of good stories of all kinds.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in this series, which, sadly, doesn’t come out until next year.  I foresee re-reading this one in the time between now and then, however.  It’s too charming and full of fun not to re-visit.

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