Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Chester Keene Cracks the Code

Magoon, Kekla. Chester Keene Cracks the Code
July 5, 2022 by Wendy Lamb Books
Library copy

Chester is a very particular child who is very invested in his routines, like rotating his collection of jeans (plus one pair of corduroys), and following his schedule of bowling every day after school and playing laser tag every Friday. He doesn't have any friends, and he is bullied at school by Marc Ruffnagle. Chester lives with his mother, who is white, but misses his father, who is Black and who left the family when Chester was very young. He does have an e mail address for his father, and surreptiously checks it, but hasn't heard back in a while. There have been some gifts over the years, most of which are related to investigation, so Chester suspects that his father is a spy and unable to communicate because he is on a mission. After school, Chester goes to the local bowling alley owned by his mother's friend, who "watches" him until his mother is off work, but this gives him plenty of leeway to go to the local mall and hang out in the area. His mother is dating Christopher, whom Chester really likes. He has a daughter, Aurora, whom Chester hasn't met. Her father is white, and her mother is Japanese, although we don't quite find out where her mother is. Christopher has a heart-to-heart with him and asks how he would feel about the relationship going forward, and Chester is fairly accepting of this situation. When Chester gets a clue sending him on a scavenger hunt, he thinks it is sent by his father. He meets a girl from his school, Skye, who has clues as well, and the two work together to solve the puzzle. They bowl together a bit, and think they have uncovered a plot to rob a bank. In the end, the scavenger hunt was arranged by someone Chester did not expect, and it leads to not unwelcome changes for him and his family. He also manages to stand up to Marc with the confidence he has gained through the hunt, has a good friend in Skye, and is able to deal with the changes in his life. 
Strengths: The bowling alley is very cool and puts this into the small number of books set in bowling alleys. (Allen's How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy (2011), Sheinmel's Designed by Lucy (The Kindness Club #2) (2017), Gephart's  In Your Shoes (2018) and Allegre's The Dream Weavers (2020)) I liked the description of Chester's behavior and how this shaped his life. He is not alone in pining for a parent. Christopher is a great character, and his relationship with the mother was one of my favorite parts. The scavenger hunt was interesting, and used Chester's skills well. I always enjoy Magoon's writing, and this was an entertaining read. 
Weaknesses: The bank heist through me a little; Chester and Skye are left duct taped in an alley, but nothing more seemed to happen with that story line. Also, I was pretty sure for most of the book that Chester's father was in jail; in middle grade books, if the character suspects a parent is a spy, it is almost a sure thing that the parent is incarcerated. This wasn't the case. 
What I really think: I was hoping that this would have an older middle grade feel like The Season of Styx Malone (which is a brilliant study in Kids Doing Stupid Things), but Chester's 6th grade experiences felt a bit younger. 

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