Title: The Trap
Author: Steven Arntson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 hours
Goodreads synopsis: It’s the summer of 1963, and something strange is afoot in the quiet town of Farro, Iowa. The school district’s most notorious bully has gone missing without a trace, and furthermore, seventh grader Henry Nilsson and his friends have just found an odd book stashed in the woods by Longbelly Gulch—a moldy instruction guide written to teach the art of “subtle travel,” a kind of out-of-body experience. The foursome will soon discover that out-of-body life isn’t so subtle after all—there are some very real, and very dangerous, things happening out there in the woods. The science fiction inventiveness of Madeleine L’Engle meets the social commentary of Gary Schmidt in this thrilling tale of missing persons, first crushes, embarrassing pajamas, and thought-provoking dilemmas.
As much as I love YA and children’s books, I actually don’t find myself reading a lot of middle grade books, although obviously I was always attached to one when I was, like, seven years old. I read this one because I’m interviewing at a literary agency in a few weeks for an internship there, and I thought it would probably be good to have read at least one book that they’ve represented. I did not plan to finish this book in one sitting when I took it down to Central Park yesterday, but here we are.
I liked the setting a lot. I thought it was really neat to have the layers of sci-fi and fantasy and civil rights and racism. Although, when I explained the plot to my boyfriend, he said, “Okay, I buy the ghosts and the astral projection, but you lost me when you said the book claims someone in Iowa in the 1960s knows both someone who’s Native American and someone who’s Chinese.” Truthfully, I had the same thought while reading this, but I love representation, and especially in a children’s book where there are ghosts running around, I don’t really care how logical that representation is. (I honestly don’t know if it’s illogical or not. I know nothing about Iowa or the 1960s.)
The actual plot was okay. I was interested enough to want to know what was going to happen, and like I said, I did finish the book in one sitting. I thought the whole thing with the Fibonacci sequence and the “subtle self” was a little weird and creepy, but it was creative, and I suppose I can see how a kid would enjoy it. Henry was a pretty fun main character. I liked the twin dynamic, although I did not appreciate his remarks in the beginning about how she should have had the bike that was “for boys” because she was the tougher one. I don’t deny that kids think like that, especially decades ago, though still mostly now too, but it definitely had no place in a book like this. If you’re writing for children, you have to be mindful of the messages you’re sending.
In any case, this was a fun read, but now I have to go be a real adult and do real adult things like pay my rent and go to work. I am very excited for the start of September tomorrow! If you have any recommendations for good autumn reads, please let me know. And if there are any fans of middle grade books reading this, tell me your favorite! Maybe I will read more middle grade stuff.