Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Hitch at the Fairmont

18689749Averbeck, Jim. A Hitch at the Fairmont
June 24th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jack Fair ends up an orphan in 1956, after the apparent suicide of his actress mother and the death of his father, whom he never met, during WWII. He is given over to the custody of his Aunt Emily, a mountainous, evil woman who lives a pampered life with her pet chinchilla at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. She's not nice to Jack, who misses not only his mother but his friend Schultzie, with whom he had hoped to live. After a short while, his aunt is apparently kidnapped, and a ransom note is left on the sheets of her bed in chocolate. In Jack's panic, he runs into Alfred Hitchcock in the hallway, and begs for his help. This works against him, since the police think that the kidnapping is one of Hitchcock's publicity stunts and refuse to help Jack. Hitchcock agrees to help Jack investigate, and the two come across a lot of family secrets involving blackmail, slavery, and sordid pasts. They must hide the aunt's disappearance from Jack's social worker, which involves Hitchcock impersonating the aunt, adding an element of slapstick to the intrigue and suspenseful chases within the hotel and out in San Francisco as well.
Strengths: This struck a good balance between the CSI style gory mysteries my students want, and the clue oriented mysteries the teachers want them to have. There are too few books set in the 1950s, and this had some excellent details of San Francisco at that time. Introducing young readers to Hitchcock might encourage them to watch some of his classic films. The inclusion of cartoon story boards at the beginning of each chapter may entice graphic novel readers. Lots of interesting elements in this, and it didn't even require me to suspend disbelief too much to think that Hitchcock could have been coerced into helping Jack. That was convincingly set up.
Weaknesses: At 461 pages, this may be a hard sell. Luckily, the cover is a strong one. I've decided to buy a copy, but I do wish that this had come in at about 300 pages; then it would have been very easy to get into students' hands and more of them might discover Hitchcock's work.


  1. Did you read Travis Jonker's piece the other day about how all middle grade novels should be 200 pages? 461 pages will make it a hard sell but the cover is so wonderful that I think I'm join to buy it anyway.

  2. "This struck a good balance between the CSI style gory mysteries my students want, and the clue oriented mysteries the teachers want them to have." I thought this was fascinating. Any examples of what a clue oriented mystery would be?

  3. Clue oriented mysteries would be something like (most obviously) Encyclopedia Brown, but also Blue Balliet, The Westing Game, Margolis' Maggie Brooklyn mysteries (which I adore), Michael Beil's Red blazer Girls, Runholdt's Kari and Lucas books, Springer's Enola Holmes. I like this sort of mystery best as well, but my students love Ferguson's The Christopher Killer and other things where people die rather violently. Teachers want mysteries that they can use to show how the mystery is solved, and use them to demonstrate literary techniques like foreshadowing, etc. Oddly, students don't care too much about literary techniques. come to think of it, I don't think that many adults who are reading for pleasure do, either!

  4. We have a school librarian coming into the family next year. She says she definitely has to deal with the student taste vs. teacher taste thing. I would find that difficult.

  5. Thanks for this one! I've saved a bunch of blog posts over the summer. I went back to work yesterday, and have been having fun going back over posts and creating a book order for the start of school!