cover image The Undercover Book List

The Undercover Book List

Colleen Nelson. Pajama, $17.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-77278-187-8

After her chief-of-staff father is posted overseas in the Middle East and her best friend Sienna moves away, bookish, mystery-loving seventh grader Jane McDonald, who is cued white, feels abandoned—until she becomes ensconced in Sienna’s literary scavenger hunt, meant to help Jane find a new, like-minded friend. Clues left in a library book lead to an unexpected secret pen pal: listless gamer Tyson Flamand, 12, a white middle child whose frequent pranks and neglected schoolwork often land him in trouble. When Tyson’s mother restricts his Xbox privileges, he slowly but surely becomes an engaged reader, eventually joining Jane’s competitive, ethnically inclusive Kid Lit Quiz team. Alternating chapters catalogue Tyson and Jane’s earnest perspectives (“It feels like people are always leaving me”) in Nelson’s (Harvey Holds His Own) gentle yet well-paced story. Featuring the duo’s interspersed missives, the narrative explores what it means to be accurately perceived, by both others and oneself, while simultaneously serving as a satisfying love letter to Louis Sachar, Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, and other cherished authors, and emphasizing books’ transformative power. Back matter includes their Undercover Book List. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)