Monday, February 23, 2015

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

We went to Hawaii for a week and I read eight books and decided to write the reviews when I got back. Great plan except this book is a blank slate or blank plate. I'm hungry. I had to go back and reread other reviews to remind myself what it was about. Like butter on top of a pancake, the characters and plot just went poof! sliding off and out of my memory. Hazel, the protagonist, is swept up in the hysteria of McCarthyism during the Cold War. Rumors have it that there is a Russian spy in Hazel's small town of Maple Hill and Hazel, an avid reader of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, is the sleuth that is going to figure out the traitor. Suspect number one is Mr. Jones, the caretaker at the cemetery her parents own. She enlists the help of newcomer, Samuel Butler, a new boy that is smarter in school than Hazel. This causes her some insecurity as she is not confident in many things except that she is the smartest girl in her class. Now that someone smarter has come along, she's not sure how to deal with it. She changes throughout the story from accepting media whoop-la to one that learns to think for herself.

Hazel thinks highly of herself. She can be cocky and arrogant, but also strong-headed and daring. It isn't easy creating a character that is full of himself or herself and while the author does an okay job, I did lose interest when Hazel had negative inner monologues. The stereotypes of the bullies and crabby librarian with no-nonsense glasses and shoes that didn't like books out-of-order contrasted with the nice pretty librarian also fell flat. Hazel's mom sometimes would say something wise to Hazel, but then would make a petty comment about the pigeon-toed bully's sidekick that seemed inappropriate. The music teacher sometimes seemed like a ding-dong that didn't get the dynamics of her class but other times would cruelly laugh at Hazel and play favorites. There is one kind teacher, but I found myself put off more times than not. Perhaps if there was less focus on looks and superficial characteristics and the balance not so tipped toward the negative, I would not have kept losing interest in parts and skimming.

The story takes place in the 1950's and the author does a good job capturing small town life and the historical setting. Hazel builds a bomb shelter in a mausoleum as a way to deal with the Communist threats to her community. Her best friend has moved away and she is bullied mercilessly by two girls at school. Hazel is very impulsive and doesn't think before she acts causing quite a bit of harm to those in her path. But she also has a sensitive side and when she helps Samuel deal with his grief at the end it is a nice touch. I really liked this author's book "The Water Castle," but this one fell short for me. I'm gonna cut this review short as I feel like the runaway pancake. Hmmm, pancakes. I haven't had them in ages. Like I said, I'm hungry.

3 Smileys

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