New Books: Recently Read Middle Grades Books

I’ve fallen a little behind on reviewing the books I’ve read lately, so I thought I’d combine them into a few posts to catch myself up.


The Secret Keepers
By Trenton Lee Stewart

The author of The Mysterious Benedict Society is back with another tale of new friends on a dangerous adventure. This time, this kids in question are Reuben, who makes a dangerous discovery on one of his explorations in the city, and Penny, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter whose family guards a secret from a hidden evil. Pursued by the henchmen of a criminal known as The Smoke, Reuben unravels a series of clues that lead him to Penny’s lighthouse and the secret power of his mysterious discovery. Reuben, Penny, and Penny’s older brother team up to take down The Smoke once and for all.

Like The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Secret Keepers is a sometimes over-complicated adventure story featuring intelligent, resourceful, independent children as its heroes. The storyline isn’t always satisfying for me—especially when it veers into situations that feel ridiculous (The Smoke’s big booby trap of a house is one of these for me)—but the protagonists are terrific and interesting, and you want to know what happens next for them. (I wish the villains were similarly complex.) The book is at its best during its suspenseful sequences, which are clearly Stewart’s forte—he builds the kind of tension that keeps you flipping pages—and the development of the characters on the side of good, especially the children. There are places where the lengthy descriptions and explanations bog the book down a bit—I think a little editorial intervention might have trimmed some of the length without losing any of the story—but that’s a quibble. This is an adventure story and—mostly—a pretty delightful one with plenty of satisfying twists and turns, perilous exploits, and a well-earned conclusion. 

If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, this one is definitely worth checking out on your next library trip.

The Secret of Goldenrod
By Jane O'Reilly

I have always had such a soft spot for old-fashioned books about old houses (see also: The Four-Story Mistake, Magic Elizabeth, Gone-Away Lake), and The Secret of Goldenrod fits so beautifully into that niche, even though it’s clearly a modern book with contemporary sensibilities.

Trina and her dad spend their life moving from house to house, fixing places up for other families to call home before moving onto their next fixer-upper. Their new project is a lonely Victorian mansion on the outskirts of New Royal, Iowa, a house called Goldenrod with a tragic past. When Trina and her dad move into the house, strange things start happening, and Trina’s convinced the old house is haunted. When she discovers an antique doll called Augustine, she’s sure that Goldenrod is no ordinary house. But what does it want?

It is no surprise that I loved this book, which was warm and gentle and just a pleasure to read. Though it deals with complicated issues, including Trina’s long-absent mother and the loneliness of always being “the new kid,” in a realistic way, it’s never bleak or depressing. And though the story is about a haunted house, it’s not scary at all—there are a couple of creepy moments when Trina’s alone in the house early on—but it’s the opposite of a horror story. Trina’s relationship with her single parent dad is beautifully written—complicated and caring and completely authentic. Watching Trina slowly open up her defenses, making friends and becoming part of a community, while the old house is slowly restored to its old splendor, feels good—but it also feels right, like something Trina has earned and built for herself.

This is the kind of book I would have checked out of the library over and over again. I think it would make an absolutely lovely readaloud—in fact, it’s up next in my family’s readaloud queue.