Thursday, October 12, 2017

Greetings From Witness Protection!/Dog Day Afterschool (Crimebiters #3)

33158544Burt, Jake. Greetings From Witness Protection!
October 3rd 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Netgalley

New York City kid Nicki has been in foster care since the death of her grandmother, who taught her how to be a pickpocket. It's been hard to find a permanent place with her background and attitude, so she's a bit surprised when she is approached by the marshalls of the Witness Protection Program to join a family. Her father has been released from jail but has never come back to claim her, which helps her make her decision. Not only would she join the Sicurezzas, but they would be unable to send her back to the Center, and all her previous records would be destroyed. Why? Elena Sicurezza worked with her brother, a big shot in the Cercatore family syndicate, but crossed him. In order to better hide the family, their name is being changed, they are moving to the south, and the federal agents feel that adding another child to the family will make them harder to trace. Nicki changes her name to Charlotte and moves into a new house with "Harriet Trevor", "Jonathan", and their son, "Jackson". It's an adjestment, especially since "Charlotte" can't commit any crimes, has to keep a B- average, can't be photographed or use social media, and has to generally lay pretty low. Luckily, new neighbor Britney is friendly, and the two gets along even though Britney warns Charlotte that she isn't popular. Slowly but surely, Charlotte learns to live with the Trevors, get along in school, and come to terms with her own past, which might just be the most dangerous part of the entire relocation.
Strengths: Most middle schoolers secretly wish that they could leave their own families and be someone else, at least part of the time. Following Nicki's story is one way for them to do this. She's a flawed but sympathetic character, and her issues are an intriguing lens through which to view ordinary middle school problems.
Weaknesses: Pretty sure that neither foster care nor real witness protection programs work in real life the way they do in the book. There's some suspension of disbelief necessary to buy into this premise.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since it was an entertaining, well-written story. This is a fun way to get readers who like realistic fiction interested in spy type books, I think, and might encourage them to go on and read things like Carter's Gallagher Girls books.

Greenwald, Tommy. Dog Day Afterschool (Crimebiters #3)
October 10th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

It's the end of the school year, and Jimmy Bishop is busy making plans for summer. He wants to volunteer at the local animal shelter where he got Abby, his crime solving pooch, play lacrosse, and hang out with his friends Irwin, Baxter and Daisy. Things become complicated when Baxter admits that unless he passes math, he might be held back, and the building that houses the animal shelter is sold, and the shelter will have to close. Jimmy and his friends band together to help Baxter study, try unsuccessfully to solve a mystery involving a stolen answer sheet, and struggle through the end of the year at school, but the animal shelter is a big deal. Unfortunately, Daisy has gotten a new pet, a cat named Purkins who does NOT get along with Abby. After the stolen answer sheet debacle, Daisy and Irwin are not spending a lot of time with Jimmy, so all of the success he has in helping the shelter isn't as meaningful without his friends. With the CrimeBiters somewhat scattered, will Jimmy be able to solve the mystery of who is behind the sale of the building and the destruction caused to the animal shelter?

It's rare that the third book in a series is the most solid, but I enjoyed this book even more than My Dog is Better Than Your Dog and It's  a Doggy Dog World. In fact, there is such a complete and delightful recap of previous books in the beginning of the book that this could be read on its own if necessary. The characters all seemed to come into their own, and the fact that many of them make mistakes and are able to redeem themselves is a theme that should be explored more in middle grade fiction. The tensions between the characters are realistic and honest, and it's great to see the group working together to help Baxter be successful in school and to apologize when a mistake is made and they accuse someone wrongly in the case of the stolen answer sheet.

Children who try to make a positive impact on their world is an underutilized plot, and since this also involves dogs and cats, there will be many young readers who are drawn to this story.

While this has shades of Woodrow's Pet War or Singleton's Curious Cat Spy Club, it also pays homage to the classic Henry Reed neighborhood adventures. Even the illustrations have an appealing, timeless quality. A must read for any middle grade reader who enjoys mysteries or pet stories, Dog Day Afterschool begs to be picked up almost as insistently as the wide-eyed Purrkins.

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