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Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-8683-5 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-8685-9 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-6
Maxine (Max) has lived most of her twelve years with her grandfather, the police chief in Blue Creek, Tennessee, in a house adjacent to Thornwood Manor, a seriously creepy mansion whose cruel and miserly erstwhile owner laid a curse on his heirs and his community that has lingered over a century. Now, a hacker with the signature Thornwood Owl is creating social media accounts, slandering the chief [End Page 42] and the mayor and blaming them for a sudden escalation in small crimes in the town. Max, who already struggles with anger issues, is having none of this, and she’s also not letting her wheelchair prevent her from solving the mystery, even if it means risking her life investigating the crumbling mansion. There are a lot of themes going on here—from the appearance of well-intentioned but dysfunctional Mom, who is working through issues over the car accident that resulted in Max’s damaged legs, to the grandfather’s possible romance with the mayor, to Max’s fixation on superheroes, to her stubborn, often foolhardy, determination to build the perfect wheelchair. It’s therefore difficult to keep focused on the slippery mystery at the novel’s core, and the plot is muddy. However, Vaught makes Max the brash, bold star of the book, exchanging stereotypes and sympathy cards for a well-drawn character whose disability is part of who she is but not her complete identity; hopefully Max will roll ahead as the advance guard of a literary cadre.