cover image The Danger Box

The Danger Box

Blue Balliett, Scholastic Press, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-439-85209-8

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 ("[T]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.)