4 out of 4 stars
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Is it paranormal or is it just a cover up? [b]The Dirt Bike Detective[/b] by Douglas L. Hoover is a page turner full of suspense and mystery. Raven Ridge Academy in Raven Ridge, CO is not your typical small town school. Located in a once booming town, Raven Ridge Academy is looking to regain the fame that was intended for it years ago when it was built. Unfortunately, it has a mysterious past and reports of ghosts roaming the halls. Although no one at the school actually believes these ghost stories, until Chase comes along. Oliver and Chase form an unexpected friendship on the first day of the new school year when Chase comes to Oliver's rescue as Johnny has resumed his usual routine of bullying Oliver. What starts out as a quest to recover Oliver's grandfather's old pocket watch quickly turns into something more. With twelve-year-old Detective Chase leading the investigation, they quickly uncover more about the teachers and the strange happenings at the school than they bargained for. Can they solve the mystery before the President arrives?
I was immediately drawn to this book by the child-like mystery adventure described in the summary. As an avid fan of a few popular kids-solving-mysteries series, I anticipated finding another book that I would enjoy. I was not disappointed. The book starts with a Table of Contents followed by a Prologue that sets the tone for the story. Although it is only a short note from Oliver, the narrator and main character, it warns the reader of the dangers that come from reading this novel. This engages the reader and heightens the excitement about reading the story. The 400 page story is followed by a brief Epilogue that spells out how everything occurred. This is a nice touch for younger readers that may have missed some of the intuitive details in the story.
Hoover did a great job writing a mystery novel targeted at 8-13 year olds. Although classified as "Young Adult", I would argue that the appropriate audience would be a little younger. As an adult reader, it was easy for me to pick up on subtle clues given earlier in the story, but not "discovered" by the characters until later. Given the age of the characters and the transparency of some of the clues throughout the story, I think this story lacks the depth that is typically present in a Young Adult novel. One warning to readers: towards the end of the story, there are some mildly graphic details included to describe the action events taking place that may not be appropriate for younger readers. I still feel that this book is appropriate for 8-13 year olds, but I would encourage parents to determine if this book is appropriate for their younger children based on their exposure to violent/graphic content.
Not surprisingly, this book appears to have been well edited and revised before publication. There are no obvious grammatical or mechanical errors, although I did catch two mistakes: one was a missing word and another was a repeated phrase. This was likely from formatting errors or an oversight. It did not detract from the book and can easily be fixed. The writing style is tailored to the appropriate audience and flows perfectly from start to finish. It is easy to get to know the characters as you read and connect with the "detectives" as they try to solve the mystery. There are characters, like Chase, who believe in the paranormal and there are characters, like Jaclyn (or Jax), who are more rational and search for a normal explanation for the strange events taking place at the school. This helps the book relate to a wider audience as the rational and irrational pursue their theories until the end.
In my opinion, woven throughout the quest to solve the mystery is a tale of friendship. Oliver is bullied at school because he looks different than other people; he has a birthmark on his face that makes him stand out in the crowd. Similarly, Gio was born with only one and one-half legs, so he wears a prosthetic. Because of their differences, these two formed an early friendship at school. Chase doesn't seem to notice these differences and quickly bonds to both boys. Oliver has a crush on Jax, who he argues is the prettiest girl in school. She befriends him in the story, despite his oddities. One event in particular speaks to the hidden message in this book, when the students are directed to draw a classmate as they see them, not necessarily physically. Unfortunately for Oliver, he is stuck with a girl that he finds quite annoying. His image of her is not particularly nice, especially when he sees how she drew him: normal, without a birthmark. This sends a clear message to the readers about getting to know people and looking past the superficial.
I feel like I cannot say enough positive things about this book and I am hoping for more to come from Hoover. I would definitely award The Dirt Bike Detective by Douglas L. Hoover 4 out of 4 stars. I look forward to seeing this book (and many more) on the shelves one day.
The Dirt Bike Detective
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