Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon. Wendy Lamb Books, 2022. 9781524716004
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? Endearing characters and a mysterious puzzle make this middle grade novel a captivating read. Chester Keene, a biracial eleven-year-old, is “schedule oriented.” He follows a routine every day, and pays keen attention to details, as training for following in the footsteps of his absentee dad, whom Chester believes to be a spy. He has a close relationship with his mom, and spends his after-school hours bowling and playing laser tag. But then, a bully disturbs his equilibrium at school and at the bowling alley, and a kid named Skye (also biracial) befriends him, all of which also alters his comforting routine. It seems that he and Skye are supposed to work together to solve the series of enigmatic clues, which should lead them to, what exactly? His father’s secret spy mission? Add in Chester’s mom’s new boyfriend (a sympathetic character, by the way) and Chester’s life will never be the same.
I loved getting to know Chester, who may be neurodivergent, and Skye, a free spirit who becomes his first real friend. She is a wonderful foil for him. Trying to figure out whether Chester is realistic in his belief that his dad is behind the clues is fun, and worrying about whether the solution to the puzzle will bring good news makes for some suspense. Oh, and there is also a crime that the two friends solve while figuring out the puzzle. I loved reading about Chester’s journey in this heartfelt novel.
Anything you didn’t like about it? My only quibble was that the bully situation did not have a satisfying resolution.
To whom would you recommend this book? For fans of Kekla Magoon, and for readers ages 9-12 who like character-driven or mystery novels.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? It’s a great read, so yes!
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: July 26, 2022