Lucy Frank, . . Atheneum/Jackson, $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84903-9

Despite its promising title, this novel may disappoint fans of Frank's Just Ask Iris and Oy, Joy! Young Lucas must spend eight days, including Christmas, in New York City with his father and stepmother and his mean stepsister, Phoebe, while his mother vacations in the Bahamas. The only member of the household Lucas enjoys is his half-brother, Calvin, not yet two, who still "woofs" as a result of the barking lessons Lucas gave him last Columbus Day. His father and stepmother, both workaholic lawyers, often leave Lucas on his own, and he would rather read books than associate with Phoebe. When he escapes to Book World, near his father's apartment, Lucas discovers a fellow dressed in a Santa suit who turns out to be Agent (Izzy) Gribitz of the Annoyance Bureau. Most of the novel involves discussions of infighting within the bureau ("Are you telling me the Annoyance Bureau removes annoyances or creates them?" asks Lucas; "My question exactly!" Izzy replies), often at the expense of filling out relationships between Lucas and the other characters. Even Lucas's connection to Izzy seems too tenuous to explain why Lucas would go out on a limb for Izzy when the agent gets fired. Some intrigue surrounding a gizmo of Izzy's design that makes Phoebe's cat "fly" adds interest, as does the idea of some things being more annoying to certain people than others, but there's little else for middle graders to hang onto here. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)