cover image Clueless McGee

Clueless McGee

Jeff Mack. Philomel, $12.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-399-25749-0

Author/illustrator Mack (Frog and Fly) moves into middle-grade territory with an illustrated diary-style offering à la Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate. The story of hapless would-be detective P.J. McGee unfolds through letters the fifth-grader writes to his father, who P.J. believes is a private eye away on a secret mission. P.J.’s father’s absence (which goes unexplained in this series kickoff, though P.J.’s mother doesn’t seem too happy about it) adds a poignant note to what’s otherwise a slapstick story. When a tray of macaroni and cheese goes missing from the school cafeteria, P.J. takes the case (not that anyone asked). Along the way, P.J. gets gum stuck to his head (multiple times), the principal winds up covered in said mac and cheese (multiple times), and the janitor gets stuck in a bucket (twice), among other recurring gags and pratfalls. The repetition gets old, and readers don’t get much of a sense of the supporting cast, though Mack’s wonderfully kidlike cartoons really embody P.J.’s rambunctiousness, enthusiasm, and—yes—cluelessness. Ages 8–10. Agent: Rubin Pfeffer, East West Literary Agency. (Aug.)