Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett

Zoomy has never met his father or mother and has lived with his grandparents all his life. That's fine with Zoomy, he loves his grandparents and doesn't want anything to change. Zoomy hates change, sudden change can make him get stuck, unable to move until things are in order again. It helps to keeps lists of things, so Zoomy has all sorts of notebooks for his lists.

Then suddenly, Zoomy's father, Buckeye, turns up, in a stolen truck with a mysterious box in the back. Buckeye and Zoomy's grandfather have a fight, and Buckeye takes off, leaving the box. All that's in the box is a blanket and an old notebook. Zoomy studies the notebook, trying to figure out what would make it so special. With the help of his friend Lorrol, Zoomy embarks on some serious library research to figure out the secret of the notebook. But they don't have much time. A stranger is in town, and Zoomy is pretty sure he's looking for the notebook too.

I enjoyed this. It's clear that Zoomy has some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, but that isn't the focus of the book. He has a disability, and he's figured out what he needs to do to function on a day to day basis and he does it. I liked that as he learned about Darwin, and Darwin's many notebooks, he felt more confident with himself, seeing that brilliant people can have disabilities too. But it was subtle, not getting hit over the head with it.

The friendship between Zoomy and Lorrol was very sweet. They are both misfits in a way, but they don't bond over their outcastness, but rather over their desire to solve a mystery and learn stuff. Nicely done. It felt like a very genuine friendship, you could see why they liked each other. Same with Zoomy's relationship with his grandparents. We got to see enough of it to see there really was a loving relationship.

I think the title is awful. Why was it called the danger box? Zoomy has a box where he keeps exploded fire crackers that he calls the danger box. He hides the notebook there very briefly. I didn't get it. I might be missing something. Maybe it's another Darwin reference somehow? I don't know. If it's not though, it seems like a throwaway title.

I also didn't love how it was framed. There's this whole player 1 passing the box to player 2 and so on at the very beginning before the book really starts. It was weird. I guess it was trying to build the mystery, but it felt out of place. And since we never learn where the notebook was being brought from, it was just a bit odd.

Otherwise thumbs up. Good lower-middle school read with mystery and friendship and learning about Darwin but you won't even know you're learning about Darwin. Which is the best way to go. Also, children go to the library to do research! Of their own free will! Huzzah!

The Danger Box is available in September.

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