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Island of the Unknowns


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About the Author

Benedict Carey, a New York Times science section writer, was a math and physics major in college. Hoping to ignite a passion for math in his own kids, he has crafted a smart and action-packed story for middle-grade readers that uses math lessons to solve the mystery. He and his wife and their children live in New York City.


This first novel's promising premise-Carey (a New York Times science reporter) uses mathematical equations and theorems as clues to a mystery-sinks under the weight of burdensome plotting and characters' hypothesizing. Spearheading the sleuthing are Di and Tom, seventh-grade misfits determined to find Mrs. Clarke, a kindly neighbor who helps them with their math homework, after she vanishes. The kids live in a bleak trailer park located beside an underground nuclear plant, made all the more unsavory by the nearby dump, Mt. Trashmore, "an entire rotting universe, reeking like sugary vomit." Deciphering notations left by Mrs. Clarke, the kids draw a map that leads them to underground tunnels, which they suspect hold the key to the woman's disappearance. The maps-simple diagrams that grow as information is uncovered-help elucidate their discoveries, yet digressions and a steady stream of data ("The Trashmore entrance was eight hundred yards above the x-axis. But the tunnel angled inward one hundred yards for every four hundred it moved downward") may dampen interest in what feels like an extended, if adventurous, story problem. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Gr 6-8-This clever and unusual mystery is tailor made for young mathematicians. Lady Di and Tom Jones live in Folsom Adjacent, a godforsaken trailer park named after the giant power plant that shares the small coastal island. When people start vanishing from this nuclear nowhere, the two 11-year-olds investigate, using mathematical cues left behind by their missing math tutor. Equations, right triangles, pi, coordinates, and slope help the kids and some of their similarly outcast friends negotiate a massive maze of underground tunnels to access the plant and discover a nefarious scheme that will destroy the island. Carey is particularly adept at creating setting: the landscape is raw, desolate, and nearly apocalyptic. Math moves the plot along, at times at the expense of character development. Replete with diagrams, charts, and illustrated problems, the book will appeal especially to kids who love geometry, but it will also reel in fans of less numbers-centric books such as Eric Berlin's The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Putnam, 2007) or Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game (Puffin, 1992).-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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