I recently read a middle grade novel published by Scholastic in 2010 that has appeal to many but may be of personal interest to my Southwest Michigan readers. The Danger Box by Blue Balliett is set in Three Oaks, Michigan a small town of 1622 people, roughly 15 miles west of the Lake Michigan shore.
Twelve-year-old Zoomy is raised by his grandparents in this quiet town which is best described by the author in this sentence: “Everybody local knows just about everybody else in Three Oaks…” Left on the doorstep as a baby, Zoomy is raised in a nurturing environment and lives a modest life. Zoomy is a unique child with OCD and Asperger tendencies though neither diagnosis is mentioned by name. He keeps daily lists with his purple pens in special notebooks. After a first time meeting with Buckeye, his dad, at age 12, Zoomy learns that his dad has a drinking problem that makes him mean and prone to break the law. After stealing a truck, Buckeye dumps its contents at Zoomy’s home before taking off again. Zoomy discovers a notebook in the stolen items that begins a detailed research project at the local Three Oaks Library with his only friend, “Firecracker Girl” Lorrol. They uncover the historical significance of the notebook, connected to Charles Darwin, and prepare to turn it over to the authorities. A family tragedy threatens to destroy the livelihood of Zoomy’s family as well as the historically important information within the notebook.
The Danger Box is best described as a wonderful character sketch with enough mystery to keep the reader turning pages. Zoomy is well-developed. As a resident of Southwest Michigan I really appreciated the setting of the story. The author described such landmarks as the Featherbone Factory and Drier’s Meat Market. “Three Oaks has one main street…On either side of Elm Street-that’s the one with the stores-are parallel streets with blocks of wooden houses, two to the west and three to the east.” Every step of the way I envisioned where the characters were in their treks around town. I feel like Balliett did a great job encapsulating the small town community feel. Both adults and children (9-up) will enjoy Zoomy’s journey. It’s worth a read.
This link is to the Sept. 2010 issue of the Harbor Country News when Blue Balliett visited students in the River Valley School District to kick off her book tour.
Blue Balliett is also a bestselling author of the books Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3,and The Calder Game.