Spurred to action by a series of mathematical clues left behind by a missing math tutor, two seventh graders get in over their heads trying to solve a mystery by and using the skills and math strategies they were taught to save their trailer park community from certain danger. The Unknowns: A Mystery answers the eternal question "When am I ever going to use any of this stuff in real life?"
The Unknowns: A Mystery by Benedict Carey
Amulet Books, $16.95
Recommended for: Ages 9-12
Release Date: April 1, 2009
This was my first ARC, so I really wanted to love this book. It started out well enough, even though it take a few pages to get into the rhythm of the story. The the voice was a little campy, but it's written for middle schoolers, so that can be forgiven. About halfway through I was digging the mathematical puzzles and having serious flashbacks to algebra and geometry class.
Just as the story was starting to get good, however, it started to fall apart. The math and the storyline became a little confusing and a tad haphazard. New characters came onto the scene and the voice changed from a third-person observer reflecting on the events of that fateful summer to third-person omniscient. There were x and y axises with multiple lines on the plane, circles, and a clue on a piece of notebook paper that seems to have come from nowhere that was ever explained. As characters climbed around underground in the dark tunnels, I felt like I was in the dark and lacking sufficient detail about what exactly was going on and how the story would resolve. If it was this difficult for me, I'm not sure a middle schooler would be able to make it through at all.
The story had a great foundation, with a quirky math setting on the island of Adjacent, (named because it was located adjacent to the Folsum Energy plant) and a cast of loveable throwaway kids who used their street and school smarts to save their community when no one there cared enough even to notice something rotten was brewing under their feet. For the first few clues, the reader was even able to play along in figuring out the clues. But then, inexplicably, the momentum went away and the clues became random guesswork instead of math, there wasn't enough description of what was going on, and though it concluded with the kids saving the day, it wasn't as satisfying, because you weren't really sure how you got there. I enjoyed the story, but can't give it more than a C unless some serious editing takes place between ARC and publishing.