Thursday, May 26, 2022

Theater Mysteries!

Henry, April. Two Truths and a Lie 
May 24th 2022 by Christy Ottaviano Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Nell is excited to travel to the big city for a theater competition. The group's advisor, Ms. McElroy, has even managed to get a school van. In addition to Nell, there's Maeve, Jermaine, and Raven, and when bad weather forces the group off the roads, they end up at a creepy motel in the middle of nowhere. Stuart, the owner, gets them rooms and tells them a bit about the motel and its ammenities, including a game room and closed Tiki bar.  Another group of high school kids, a robotic team, shows up with their college aged advisor, Oscar. Mrs. McElroy gets her team settled and tells them to behave since she is going to bed, so of course all of the kids meet in the game room and start to play the game Two Truths and a Lie while scarfing down dodgy vending machine food. When one of the slips of paper, and an extra one at that, has alarming information saying that one of the people likes to watch people die and has killed more people than can be counted, the teens take the obvious preventive measure and consult a Ouija board. It, of course, replies in Latin, and things start to go badly wrong. An odd handyman who talks in the third person tells them the checkered past of the motel, where a double murder took place 25 years previously, and things take a grim turn. One girl appears to be murdered, and the kids try to figure out what is going on. Secrets are revealed, tensions rise, and no one seems safe. As the winter storm rages on and the killer is afraid of being caught, will anyone survive? (Tried not to spoil the twists and turns!)
Strengths: This gets double bonus points for one particular scene where there is lots of blood and gore... that turns out to be theatrical blood made of food coloring and corn syrup. This is perfect, because my readers want gore, and I don't particularly want to give them too much human on human violence. Henry is great at writing older characters in a way that is still appropriate for middle grade readers to read; this reminded me very much of the Joan Lowry Nixon titles from the 1990s that have recently seen a huge surge in popularity in my library. To bring the story into the 2020s, though, there's a bit of LGBTQIA+ representation (Nell talks about her two moms, Maeve is interested in one of the girls on the robotics team), and a small subplot about the exploitation of asylum seekers. The motel is super creepy, and I loved the details of the Tiki bar and the dusty carpet... ugh! While there is a tiny bit of alcohol (which Nell doesn't think is a great idea) and some romantic tension, the focus is mainly on escaping the maniacal killer. Remember, young readers have hopefull NOT seen all of the teen slasher horror films, so this will all be new to them. Adding in the decades old murder was a good call, and its connection to the current situation worked out nicely. I have one 6th grade boy who is going to be so thrilled to get this one-- he would check every day to see if The Girl in the White Van had been returned! This is a great title to read along with Alexander's Vacancy and Nixon's The Dark and Deadly Pool
Weaknesses: There are always a number of people who don't understand Henry's work and audience and give it two stars on Goodreads. Don't listen to these people. Middle school readers LOVE these books and absolutely devour them. Henry does her research into the criminal details and adds just the right amount of scary elements. Is this book a little bit cheesy? Yes. Is that what my readers want? Absolutely.
What I really think:  The only question is whether or not I should buy two copies. Since someone moved away with a brand new copy of Eyes of the Forest, the answer to this question is probably "You should buy THREE."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Key, Janet. Twelfth.
May 17th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Maren is glad to go to summer camp to get away from problems at home surrounding her older sister, Hadley, but she still can't escape her sister's shadow, since she also had attended the Charlotte Goodman Theater Camp. Maren has a knack for solving little mysteries, like where Jo, the camp director, left her phone, and she settles in to her cabin. Roommate Theo, who identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them, is interested in filming, and manages to irritate the other campers, especially after saying the name of the play the camp is putting on, MacBeth. There's already been an issue with the oldest counselor having gone missing, and there is a fear that this is the last year that the camp will be open, since there is development occurring around it. There's also the issue of the camp's history-- Charlotte Goodman was the daughter of a dancer and a set designer in Hollywood, and went into films herself, but unfortunately perished in a horrible fire in the 1950s. The camp was set up by her sister in her honor. There was another woman who died in the fire, and she had a very expensive engagement ring with her. The diamond has been rumored to be at the camp somewhere, and Maren starts to think that the counselor's disappearance had something to do with the clues she has found around camp, as well as rumored sightings of Charlotte's ghost. When developer Renee Wallace is seen lurking around the camp, Maren becomes more suspicious, and redoubles her efforts to find the diamond. In flashbacks, we see Charlotte's involvement in early Hollywood, and find out some secrets about her past. Will she and Theo be able to find the diamond, save the camp, and deal with the family issues that Maren will once again face when she returns home?
Strengths: There is a lot of good LGBTQIA+ representation in this book, and very good conversation on gender diversity with Dr. Jennifer Feldman at the back. A large plot twist revolves around the fact that Charlotte developed a romantic relationship with a female star, but I don't want to ruin the mystery! Theo's treatment is realistic, as they are not always treated well by some people but generally accepted. We didn't get a lot of information about Hadley's depression, but did see how it affected Maren. There is interesting information about the Red Scare in Hollywood; readers might want to pick up Brimner's Blacklisted!: Hollywood, the Cold War, and the First Amendment for more information. The fact that the camp might be endangered is realistic, and the alumni's support of it is touching. Since Charlotte was born in 1930, I think this was set in 2015 so that the timeline was a bit more realistic. 
Weaknesses: I know that there are some schools that get really into Shakespeare, but mine is not one of them. We have a small theater program now, but books about theater don't circulate very well. 
What I really think: This is a good mystery for readers who like Snyder's 2011 William's Midsummer Dreams, Freeman's (2021) Noah McNichol and the Backstage Ghost, Condie's 2016 Summerlost or Asher's Upstaged
 Ms. Yingling


  1. Two Truths and a Lie sounds really good. I'll have to check it out.

  2. If you had been there to translate the Latin message, things might have gone better.