Last month, I attended the Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference, and I got to hear Blue Balliett speak about writing middle-grade mysteries. Of course, I had to purchase two of her books and get them autographed.
This stand-alone book is the first I chose to read. The Danger Box follows the adventures of a boy named Zoomy. He is legally blind and was left as a baby on the doorstep of his grandparents, who have raised him for the past twelve years. His real father is an alcoholic and didn’t even realize he had a son. Zoomy has a definite personality, and he understands the world best by making lists—for everything.
When his father visits one night in a drunken episode, Zoomy is frightened and forced out of his comfort zone. Lots of things happen as a result of that visit. His dad, who had been driving a stolen truck, leaves the family a box and a blanket with a notebook wrapped inside.
To make a long short, the notebook belonged to Charles Darwin (it’s the notebook that went missing in the 1980s). Zoomy is allowed to look at the notebook, and as he discovers who wrote it, he is thrilled to find that Darwin was often unsure of himself, sick, nervous, and a bad speller! It made Zoomy feel that he wasn’t so strange after all.
Through the course of the adventure of figuring out who the notebook belongs to, Zoomy meets a girl, Lorrel, and the two of them publish a newsletter for the town with lesser-known facts about Darwin, and the town is invited to guess who they are writing about.
There are many more twists and turns that happen in this book, but I won’t spoil those. I will explain the title, though: Zoomy has a box called the danger box, where he puts things that he finds dangerous, like used firecrackers. It comes into play during the course of the novel.
I enjoyed how intricately many different mysteries were woven into one. I also enjoyed Zoomy’s character growth. Although this is a middle-grade novel, it had more depth than even some young adult novels I’ve read. I really liked Zoomy’s epiphany at the end: for most of the novel, he wants to stick to routines and do only what is predictable, but by the end, he realizes that the unexpected is both good and bad but is essential for adding depth to life.
I recommend this book, and I look forward to reading this author’s other works.