July 20, 2006


Emily Rodda’s Raven Hill Mysteries #5: Dirty Tricks. By Emily Rodda and Kate Rowe. Scholastic. $4.99.

Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Book 10: The Coming of Hoole. By Kathryn Lasky. Scholastic. $4.99.

Call Me María. By Judith Ortiz Cofer. Scholastic. $6.99.

     There are so many mysteries to solve, in this world and others, real and imagined, that a young reader has but to choose the type of mystery he or she wants to encounter, and there will be a book, or a series of books, on that very topic.  Fans of traditional mysteries – taking place in what passes for the real world, in the traditional “what’s going on and why?” format – will enjoy the fifth Ravel Hill Mysteries book, which has mundane settings: school and the library.  It seems there is a phantom of some sort at large in the Raven Hill Library, and it is playing some nasty tricks on Richelle and her five friends.  The tricks are getting more dangerous, too, and there is a real risk that the library will be destroyed if the young detectives do not find out who (or what) is behind the mystery.  It turns out that there are surprises within surprises, involving the librarian herself, and reading, and professional jealousy – but of course, everything turns out just fine.

     Things are not quite as neatly tied up in The Coming of Hoole, the 10th but by no means the last book in Kathryn Lasky’s long-running series about people and owls and wolves and magic and more.  This is the sort of mystery that turns on a prophecy whose meaning is unclear.  It takes place in a mythical land where only the humans (or human-like characters, to be precise) resemble the reader.  It is, in short, a fantasy, and one that Lasky has been spinning for quite some time, ever since the first Ga’Hoole book, The Capture.  This is probably not the right book for newcomers to the series to read first, since it draws on so much that has gone before.  But it is possible to figure out what is happening here, thanks to a scene-setting Prologue.  The focus of this book is the second of three ancient legends, this one speaking in large part of wolves and owls.  The Ga’Hoole books have their own vocabulary: “This particular kind of howling was called glaffing.”  “It was Dunmore MacDuncan, a young but very intelligent wolf who was just a pup when they had left the Always Cold and begun their journey to the Beyond.”  The humanizing of wolves and owls is effectively done, even if the mystery of this book’s prophecy leads at the end only to the conclusion that there are more mysteries to come.

     The greatest mystery of all, of course, lies within each of us, and it is that mystery that Judith Ortiz Cofer approaches in Call Me María.  Subtitled “A Novel in Letters, Poems, and Prose,” this is the tale of a Puerto Rican girl now living with her father in the New York barrio – separated from her mother, who remains on the island.  María is not used to the cold concrete of the city, or the cold of its winters, but here she is and here she must stay, looking forward to the coming of spring – a metaphor here, as it often is, for the awakening of one’s inner self.  María finds herself through poetry, such as this excerpt from a poem about her friend, Whoopee: “She does not see her own beauty./ She performs for us. She gives us herself/ as a clown. This is her gift and her secret/ sadness. Whoopee does not know/ her beauty.”  The constant inward focus of this short novel makes it seem longer than it is – it does tend to drag at times – but the book is certainly heartfelt, and in seeking to plumb the inner mysteries of being oneself, it has a depth that other kinds of mystery stories usually lack.

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