I chose this title for two reasons: First, I loved the intriguing cover full of mystery. And second, it was written in close 3rd person POV. I had been working on my current manuscript in the same POV and found reading in the same format was helpful in my own writing. After I read the first page and learned the name of the female protagonist, Hazel Kaplansky, I settled in for what I hoped would be a fun summertime mystery. It didn’t take long to realize (let’s say the third page) that this was going to be a light mystery with a heavy dose of historical fiction.
The year is 1953. The Cold War and fear of communism is in full swing. Hazel is petrified her family is going to be dragged away by Russian spies in her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont. With her love of Nancy Drew books she sets out to build the evidence against a man who works for her parents. I never was fully behind this MC and frankly got a little tired of her whiny pursuit. What was interesting to me was learning about a time period I’d last heard about while sitting in my high school American History class. Okay, to be honest, my eyes were probably bouncing from the clock on the wall to the beautiful day outside to the more beautiful Russian exchange student who kept winking at me. Senator Joseph McCarthy and communist plots didn’t have a chance. I wish I’d had this book back then to enlighten me more than my droll lecturing teacher ever could.
I’m not sure if this story will be a big hit with the middle grade crowd. I’d think history loving individuals who have a connection to this time period themselves or with a relative would appreciate it more. I enjoyed it enough to feature it on today’s MMGM.
PUBLICATION DATE:2014 PAGE COUNT: 305 pages
FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth—and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it’s up to her to find a suspect… starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious grave digger. Plus she’s found a perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. But as Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth is suddenly not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL by Megan Fraser Blakemore
- Hazel’s friend, Samuel, is more of a mystery than the one Hazel is after. I found him to be like a few kids I’ve crossed paths with, looking for meaning in their past and trying to find just one friend. He perhaps had more change to his character than Hazel.
- The story shows how gossip and rumors are a hurtful thing in schools and communities. It’s usually started by a one or two people and effects so many more. It was rampant in this era even without social media.
- The secondary adult characters were charming in their own way and willing to help Hazel understand.
- Female bullying was alive and well 60 years ago. You cringe every time Mary Anne Wood steps into a scene because you know she’s going to leave a mess in her wake.
- The author’s notes at the conclusion of the story provided more detail about McCarthy and his undoing. Very interesting and I would urge future readers to read those few pages first before anything else.
Hazel jumped in: “So what he’s saying is that ducking down under our desks isn’t going to do us any good if the Russians decide to drop a bomb on Maple Hill. The whole school would be blown over and then the radiation would come and burn our skin to a crisp and all our hair will fall out and we’ll be walking around here like skeletons, if we can even walk at all.”
Ellen Abbott began to cry.
“Hazel, that is quite enough,” Mrs. Sinclair told her.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.