by Patricia Reilly Giff
Publisher: Holiday House
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Two-time Newbery Honor-winner Patricia Reilly Giff's Hunter Moran hunts for a long-buried treasure, tearing up the town and getting into some tight spots in the process in a humorous and heartwarming third book about Hunter. A companion to Hunter Moran Saves the Universe and Hunter Moran Hangs Out.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I picked up this book at the library, thinking that it would be a fun, quick read. I'd read another of the author's middle-grade books, Pictures of Hollis Woods, and really enjoyed it. I did not, however, enjoy this book. It's so weak, I can hardly believe it's by the same author.
The main problem I had with this book is that, though it is classed as "middle grade", it comes across as really young. Insultingly, condescendingly young. I'm not sure how old Hunter and his twin brother are supposed to be (I can't recall him ever telling us), but judging by the kids' actions in the story (and the fact that their friend has braces), I'm guessing they're about ten. I've read books for younger middle graders before and enjoyed them. But there's a fine line between writing for kids and writing down to them. This book did the latter. It was also directed squarely at middle grade boys, to the point where girls of the same age probably would have been insulted. There are two main girl characters: the twins' older sister, Linny, and their classmate, Sarah Yulefski. The former is portrayed as a bossy busybody who's obsessed with ski trips to Switzerland; the latter is portrayed as a know-it-all with bad hygiene who is, inexplicably, liked by all the adults in town.
The characterization is uneven at best, and downright stupid at worst. Younger brother Steadman is supposed to be five, and when he isn't letting out bloodcurdling screams to show his displeasure or fear, he's solving everyone else's problems and acting like a savant. Older brother William comes out of nowhere at the most opportune times and saves the day. (What would you call that? Frater ex machina?) The teachers at school are one-dimensional caricatures of aged nuns. The town dentist is a sadist, and apparently doesn't even require payment or insurance before breaking out the drill. The parents barely interact with their own kids, which is odd since they decided to have seven of them. The mother's only defining characteristic is being a terrible cook (tuna fish and marmalade sandwiches, anyone?) which, again, is odd considering she appears to be a stay-at-home mother. The father just seems tired all the time and has to put in long hours at work... presumably because he has so many kids. Even the dog, Fred, is annoying. He's extremely vicious, biting and snapping at people, and even frothing at the mouth... and yet he's considered an appropriate family pet, even with two babies in the household.
Then there's the whole stupid plot with the buried treasure. You can't tell me that, in over 100 years, with all the people who have searched for it, these kids were the only ones smart enough to find it. If they had been given a clue that nobody else had had, I might have bought it. But when the clues turned out to have been in plain sight all along, and these kids were the only ones smart enough to figure out where the treasure was buried? I'm sorry, but no. That is not believable at all.
The best thing about this book is that the writing was technically correct. The worst thing, on the other hand, was pretty much everything else. I'm sure there are better books out there for middle-grade boys. Skip this one.
So there I am. Trapped for the next hour. Beating drums, banging cymbals, with Sister Ramona yelling "Yowdie Yo!" every few minutes.
But something strange is happening. I can feel the beat of the drum in my head, and in my chest. It's actually soothing. No, that's the wrong word. It's better than that. It feels pretty exciting.
But then Sister Ramona raises one hand, fingers to her lips, tilting her head toward the coal room. "I think we have a killer here. I don't know much about him, but his name is Fred, and he speaks a strange language."
Recommended to: younger middle-grade boys whose reading tastes are not yet that sophisticated
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Overall Rating: 2.14 out of 5 ladybugs