Chester Keene Cracks the Code

Kekla Magoon (The Season of Styx Malone), recipient of four Coretta Scott King Honors, gives middle-grade readers a heartfelt novel featuring two preteens trying to solve a mystery.

Eleven-year-old Chester Keene thrives on routines: he wakes up, showers and eats breakfast at the same time every day; Monday to Thursday you can find him (alone) at the local bowling alley after school and on Fridays he goes to laser tag. It comes as a huge surprise to Chester when one of his classmates, Skye, approaches him during lunch to help her solve a puzzle. While the request to be social makes him apprehensive, he is curious about the clue, which is very similar to two others he received at home. Chester, who has secretly been e-mailing his estranged father, believes that his dad planned a secret mission for him, and Skye must be in on it. After weeks of working together to solve riddles, the middle-schoolers accidentally stumble upon a robbery. This new development soon opens a Pandora's box of life-changing events, and the robbery lands the kids in some hot water.

Magoon breaks up this sweet and witty novel into short chapters with accessible language that will make middle-grade readers eager to crack the code and solve the mysteries for themselves. She intelligently includes topics such as bullying, parental abandonment and friendships as she perfectly navigates Chester's complicated, secretive and sensitive inner life. In Chester Keene Cracks the Code, Magoon makes space for and celebrates the sensitive and solitary middle-grade readers who are happiest flying under the radar. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

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