Mickey Bolitar is having a hard time. His father has been killed in a car accident, his mother is a junkie in rehab, and he's living with his uncle Myron, former basketball star and lawyer. His girlfriend, Ashley, has disappeared, and he keeps running afoul of the popular kids. He has two friends; Ema, a Goth girl with a wicked sense of humor, and Spoon, a geeky kid whose father is the school janitor. When the local "Bat Lady" tells Mickey that his father is still alive, Mickey sets off to find out whether this is true, and also tries to find out what has happened to Ashley. The two things are connected through the organization his father tried to leave-- the Abeona Shelter, which tries to rescue children in bad situations. Is Mickey's father really dead? A sequel is sure to follow.
Strengths: I've not read any of Coben's adult books, but he has done a good job at writing for young adult. He doesn't talk down or try to adjust his style of writing, which I felt Grisham did with his Theodore Boone. There's still a gritty underworld and plenty of violence, but he was circumspect in his vocabulary and situations. Very nice. The only objectionable epithets hurled are "ass-tard" and "candy ass", which I haven't heard since 1982!
Weaknesses: So confused about the time line. As a Holocaust survivor, the "Bat Lady" would be almost 80, and the Waffen SS guard would be over 90. Can't comment much on said SS guard, but I was confused as to how such a person would appear in the role that he did in this book. Still, very good mystery!
This is sort of a sequel to Finally, but introduces a new character, Tara, who is sent to Willow Falls to live with her cousin. She has her money and iPod stolen on the train, and seeks the help of Angelina, who runs a magical antiques store, to earn money back. At first, she tries to sell Angelina one of her uncle's collectible comic books, but when Angelina realizes the comics are stolen, she makes Tara collect 13 objects from people in the town, and Tara enlists the help of some new friends, including a boy she comes to like. The objects all turn out to be props in a production of Fiddler on the Roof that was never performed, and Angelina instructs Tara to put together a production using the props and perform it on her 13th birthday. Again, her friends band together to help her, and Tara finds out a secret about her parents' youth in the same strange town.
Strengths: This was engaging enough, and Finally is hugely popular in my library. Great cover.
Weaknesses: I am not a Mass fan. This was too quirky for my taste, and it's confusing that 11 Birthdays is so clearly fantasy, Finally isn't, and this book goes back to more magical fantasy. I didn't care that much for Tara, and somehow the premise seemed unlikely.