Sigmund Brouwer,
The Disappearing Jewel of Madagascar
(Bethany House, 2002)

I liked the title of this book. It seemed appropriate for a mystery. However, I will warn you -- though the crime is solved by the end of the book, Madagascar remains a mystery. The name refers to the jewel only and the story takes place completely in modern North America.

Ricky Kidd, his silent tag-along younger brother Joel and his buddies Mike and Ralphy are pretty regular kids. The book opens with Ricky in a chair getting a bad haircut. Most kids would relate to that and that would be enough to spoil their day, but poor Ricky's day just gets worse and worse. He soon comes under the curse attached to the walnut-size jewel he picked up and he now owes his part-time employer, Mrs. McEwan, over $2,400 for damaging her collection of antique jewelry.

Things like mysterious strangers, strangely silent friends and bouts of snooping keep the story moving and interest high. If you like mysteries and you've read a few, you know these are commonplace features but they are a tried and true formula. Expect a few surprises though.

Ricky is a young character kids in their pre-teens and early teens can relate to. In keeping with Bethany House publications are the moral questions posed by this young fellow. For instance, when Ricky's trying to figure out how to repay Mrs. McEwan such a large sum, he wonders if it's OK to pray for money.

There are a few little issues like that which arise and, to the author's credit, he doesn't give preachy answers. Within this story, the book simply acknowledges the questions and concerns of the children. Brouwer sets up situations where the right thing to do is a natural part of the story, but that doesn't mean his characters always do the right thing.

The story is fun and follows a clear path until the last third of the book. Some new characters are introduced and I became lost in the action as things sped up. I had to re-read a couple of sections. It's a light read, but pay attention. Almost all children relate to worms and jell-o, and they are in this book, too.

If I were to write children's books, Disappearing Jewel is the kind of book I would like to write. The characters are not stereotypes, but rather interesting in an everyday sort of way. I can think of several children, boys and girls, between the ages of 9 and 13 who would like this book. Parents who purchase it can know it offers glimpses of life problems that relate to the struggle of growing up and growing mature, and it especially lets children know that many fears and questions they have are shared by other young people.

Here are 140 pages without profanity or sex. Life is full of so much more than what the visually disturbing movies and games in mainstream offer us.

The book is part of a series called Accidental Detectives and there are several more paperbacks available with the same characters and by the same author. From reading this book, I'd say these are all worth checking out.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 24 May 2003

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