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Friday, January 6, 2012

Yay for YA: The Jinson Twins, Science Detectives, and the Mystery of Echo Lake review

A funny thing happened on Goodreads a couple weeks ago.  I often enter the giveaways on the site in hopes of getting free books.  Thus far, I've never won.  But then, I got a message on Goodreads.  From an author.  Saying that his giveaway is overbooked and, "Since you are a librarian and review and blog about YA books regularly I would be happy to send you a review copy outside of the giveaway if you provide an address where I can send the book."  Epic squeal.

So I am happy to bring to you a review of the middle-grade mystery, The Jinson Twins, Science Detectives, and the Mystery of Echo Lake by Steven L. Zeichner.
Statistics
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Aimed at children age 11-13; I think the seventh grade science teacher will love it.
Source: From the author! Signed!!

Synopsis: Joe and Debbie Jinson decide to start a business during their summer vacation.  They are hired by the eccentric Mrs. Gray to help clean out her basement.  While doing so, Mrs. Gray mentions that her late husband was a sea captain who went down with his ship, but had apparently left her a treasure which she has not found.  The twins find a map, and with the help of Mr. Benjamin, the owner of the local junkyard (excuse me, Resource Recovery and Recycling Center), they use scientific principles to solve riddles and try to find the treasure.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars (rounded up)

Let me be forthcoming in saying that mystery novels are not my cup of tea.  This took me about a week to read, which is a bit more than normal, because mysteries just don't hold my interest very well.  However, I'm a librarian, and I need to be able to tell my students - and the readers of this blog - about all sorts of books.  If you like mysteries, you'll probably get more excited over this book than I did (beyond the extreme happiness of getting a signed, free book from an author).

This novel has a great premise.  Using science to figure out a mystery appeals to educators, and a lot of kids like conducting science experiments.  There's one provided in the back of the book, somewhat similar to what the Jinson twins did in their quest to find the treasure.  Mr. Benjamin encourages the protagonists to form hypotheses when they start investigating the map and riddle, and helps them with research and studying data they collect.

There are some seriously quirky characters.  Mrs. Gray is one odd duck, and her African gray parrot, the Captain, adds both levity and unexpected insight.  There are villains quite suitable for this story - a trio of slightly older teen boys who feel that the twins are encroaching on their summer job "turf."  This certainly isn't an adult murder mystery; if not for the advanced reading level, it would be suitable for the elementary crowd.  Searching for treasure while on summer vacation is probably something many kids would be thrilled to do.  (See also, the movie "The Goonies.")

At times this book feels like it was originally written in third-person, and was changed to a first-person from the point of view of Debbie, the female twin, late in the game.  There are a few pronoun errors - not enough to throw off the flow of the story, though - and something just seems a little "off" in Debbie's narration.  Perhaps this was done to attract female readers to a science-based story.

Fun fact: The author is a pediatrician and works at Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D. C., where he is Senior Investigator in the Children’s Research Institute.  His previous publications are the Handbook of Pediatric HIV Care (first and second editions) and Textbook of Pediatric HIV Care, both of which he edited.

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