Reviews for Danger Box

Booklist Reviews 2010 October #1
Left by his father on his grandparents' doorstep as a baby, Zoomy has grown up happily with them in a small Michigan town, despite the extreme nearsightedness that leaves him legally blind and the fact that he has no friends. He has never known his cruel, troubled, alcoholic father, who shows up early in the novel and leaves behind a mysterious box, probably stolen, for safekeeping. The box's contents set in motion a chain of challenging experiences, including an intellectually exciting puzzle, a devastating crime, a perplexing mystery, and a rewarding friendship. Chapters of the story are interspersed with issues of a child-produced newspaper featuring writings from an individual whose identity its readers are invited to guess. With enough story elements to explore in three books, the novel ultimately seems less than the sum of its many parts. Still, Zoomy makes an appealing, original character, and the insightful first-person narration will definitely keep readers involved in his story, right down to the final secret-code letter and the author's note. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Spring
Twelve-year-old Zoomy's alcoholic father shows up and leaves behind a mysterious box. The contents lead Zoomy to solve an exciting puzzle and make a valuable discovery. Though the nonlinear narrative can be difficult to follow, readers may enjoy playing along with Zoomy while they gather clues from the revealing newsletters interspersed within the main text. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 August #2

Balliett delivers a loosely constructed tale about a modern lad who discovers an exciting connection between himself and Charles Darwin. In a box dropped off by his sociopathic father, Zoomy finds a battered old notebook whose unidentified author was—like Zoomy—compulsive about making lists of tasks and methodically checking off each item in succession. The word "Galapagos" and other clues in the book prompt visits to the local library, where Zoomy makes a high-energy new friend in summer visitor Lorrol. Together the two immerse themselves in a study of Darwin's life and plan a series of broadsheets (reproduced within) containing extracts from the scientist's writings. Around these and other info-dumps the author wraps an engaging picture of Zoomy's life with loving, sensitive grandparents. But a rococo chain of events that begins with the notebook's theft and climaxes in a contrived fire seems inserted just to move the plot along while providing a demonstration of small-town values in action. Unlike the author's previous outings, here her enthusiasm for historical research seems to outweigh her interest in creating a well-founded story. (Mystery. 11-13)


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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 September #4

Balliett's (Chasing Vermeer) latest mystery spotlights the life of Charles Darwin with a boy's investigation into a stolen scientific notebook. Zoomy Chamberlain, 12, has bad eyesight, a touch of OCD, and a need for structure ("he smallest changes can make me jittery-splat, as we call it"). Left on his grandparents' doorstep as an infant, his coping mechanism is keeping all kinds of lists. His highly ordered world implodes when his alcoholic father reappears, arriving with things to sell at the family's antique store. One item captures Zoomy's fascination--a careworn notebook. Sensing the journal's author is a kindred spirit, Zoomy researches the journal's provenance, as the man from whom it was stolen closes in. The tension derived from the danger facing Zoomy is halted by faux newspaper articles that offer biographical information about a "mysterious soul," but which read like didactic asides. As in her previous novels, Balliett sets the action in a real town, Three Oaks, Mich., and details about the setting add appeal. Interestingly, the notebook Darwin used during his 1835 visit to the Galápagos Islands really is missing: it disappeared in the 1980s and is classified as stolen. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 September

Gr 5-8--Balliett's latest mystery explores the intricacies of scientific discovery. Wealthy Mr. Zip has arranged for a priceless treasure, stolen years ago, to be delivered to him. He will indulge his dream of savoring this object, and then will return it to society, a magnanimous gesture that will ensure that he is remembered as a hero. Sadly, before the treasure reaches him, Mr. Zip dies of a heart attack. When a mysterious man in possession of the box learns about this, he senses opportunity for personal gain, but before he can learn what he's transporting, his truck is stolen. Switch to our narrator, Zoomy, an engaging 12-year-old who, with pathological myopia, sees the world differently than those around him. Raised by his grandparents, he is pulled into the intrigue when his absent and alcoholic father makes a brief reappearance in his life with the box. Inside, Zoomy and his grandparents find only an old notebook wrapped in a blanket. An inveterate list-maker and notebook-keeper himself, Zoomy immediately falls in love with the journal, sensing a kindred spirit in the creator. He attempts to learn more about its history as the man schemes to reclaim that which does not belong to him, and as issues of The Gas Gazette provide clues but no answers about a "mysterious soul." Balliett demonstrates how danger boxes are all around us--not just as containers of physical objects for which people will hazard a great deal, but as vehicles that expose us to risky ideas and dreams. This highly satisfying story will enlighten readers even as it inspires them to think about their own danger boxes.--Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

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