cover image The Man with the Red Bag

The Man with the Red Bag

Eve Bunting. Joanna Cotler Books, $15.99 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-06-081828-9

Bunting (The Lambkins) turns her attention to racial prejudice and suspicion in post 9/11 America in this gripping story. Twelve-year-old mystery enthusiast Kevin agrees to accompany his grandmother on a 10-day bus tour of national parks, culminating with Mount Rushmore. But when Charles Stavros, a man who looks ""Saudi Arabian or Iraqian"" to Kevin joins the tour, Kevin and other passengers become nervous (""He was dark skinned, with bushy black eyebrows and a bushier mustache. So maybe it was natural for me to be on the alert.... I think that little 9/11 bell alarm bell was ringing for all of us,""). The passengers' preoccupation with terrorists is believable, as are the elaborate scenarios and possibilities that Kevin and several kids on the bus concoct to convince themselves that Stavros, who has a red bag he carries everywhere, is one. Bunting avoids moralistic judgments or delivering her message with a heavy hand, and readers will find themselves drawn in to (and possibly sharing) Kevin's suspicions, making the revelation of the truth about Stavros all the more powerful. Ages 10-up.