Thursday, May 15, 2014

ARC Review: The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill - Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction
Published on May 6, 2014
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 320
Read From: 5.3.14 - 5.5.14

Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth - and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions begin to 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. 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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? It is rather kiddish, and while this is a kids' book, I'm not generally a fan of overly kid cover art. But it isn't a horrible cover, either. It works in its own way.

Characters: Hazel Kaplansky makes this story. She is absolute fun and witty and intelligent. She jumps to a lot of conclusions that cause a lot of problems, so sometimes I wanted to smack her. But at the same time, she was just a kid with an active imagination with inattentive parents. Everyone kind of overreacted. Maybe I can just relate to Hazel. I was never forward like her, and I hated getting into trouble, so that kept me from doing a lot of what Hazel does. But I was always looking for mystery and suspicion in seemingly mundane events and facts. And I loved Nancy Drew, too. ;-) I also really enjoyed Samuel, with his more methodical, practical, and sensible methods. He wanted to gather facts before jumping to conclusions.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: Nothing happens in sleepy Maple Hill, Vermont. For a girl like Hazel, who has great plans to become a sleuth like Nancy Drew, the quiet town drives her crazy. With her best friend having moved away, she has no one to sleuth with, or to stand against the injustices of the two mean, popular girls at school. And her parents, who own the local cemetery, just ignore her. But this is Cold War-era Vermont, and it doesn't take long for rumors to start circulating that there is a ring of Russian spies at the local factory. So Hazel does what any self-respecting young sleuth would do: She starts investigating, starting with the mysterious caretaker her parents hired. Who has a name like Paul Jones anyway? When a new kid arrives in town, Samuel Butler, Hazel finally has someone to join in her investigations. Quite honestly, if Hazel wasn't so full of personality and such a fun narrator, this would have been a dull book. The Reader knows pretty much right off that Hazel's investigations are going to backfire; it's just a question of when and how badly. Take the supposed mystery away, and you're left with a book that's merely about an overactive girl growing up during the Cold War and some of the events during that time, as well as an examination of what daily life in a small town could be like. If this particular era fascinates you, you might not find it dull at all. But for me, Hazel is what made this book.

Believability: I found the Author's Note to be quite interesting, especially what she said about Communism.

The United States and its allies were trying to fight the spread of Communism, a form of government that is supposed to allow for equality among all people but often gets stalled with an all-powerful dictator(pg. 307)

Stalled?! So if it weren't for these dictators, Communism should follow it's "natural" progression and flourish? As history has proven, Communism's natural progression is dictatorship! Communism is not an idea that just hasn't been tried by the right people. Good grief, has anyone actually read Karl Max's manifesto? Communism has to be forced, and those that don't comply must be eliminated. I find it increasingly disturbing that so many people are taking this stance that Communism itself isn't bad; it just hasn't been tried by the right people, and on large enough a scale. What the Author says about McCarthy I can't really address, as I don't really know too much about him or his policies. Bad, I know, but in this I won't say anything because I don't have the facts. The story itself, though, doesn't push agenda, and presents things in a balanced light.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. But it almost feels like a first person narration because you get such a strong sense of Hazel's personality and thoughts. The Author really captured the era's vibe, and I love all of the Nancy Drew references.

Content: None.

Conclusion: It was a happy ending, despite Hazel's mistakes. The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is one of those Middle Grade reads for adults. There's nothing in it in terms of content, but it takes place in an era and deals with events that adults will find more interesting than kids. How many of today's Middle Graders know about Nancy Drew and The Bobbsy Twins? They'll like Hazel, but the story will bore them.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, appropriate for nine-and-up, but will probably be better enjoyed by seventeen-and-up. Especially Readers who grew up with Nancy Drew.

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