The Silver Box by Margi Preus is the third in the Northwoods Mystery series for Middle Grade readers.
Francesca Frye, known as Francie to her friends, is reminiscent of Nancy Drew. She is fiercely independent, smart, and resourceful. Like many children’s lit heroines, she has a bit of a tragic past. Her father died when she was young, and her mother left under mysterious circumstances. She was raised, more or less, in combination by her grandfather, two quirky aunts, and an older brother. At 17, she now lives alone with long distance supervision.
In her memories, she has always associated her mother with a silver box, though she isn’t sure why or how. In the beginning of this book, she finds herself in possession of the box. Without reading the first two, it isn’t clear why or how, but knowing that isn’t critical to understanding the plot of this book. The box is a puzzle box, and Francie and her friends have to figure out how to open the box and its significance. Unfortunately, other people want to figure out the same thing and are willing to kidnap and maybe even kill to get at it.
The book is well written and the pages fly by. At times, the book falls into the children’s literature trap of the adults being not nearly as smart as the youth around them, but it is easy to overlook that, and no doubt the actual middle schoolers this book is aimed at will enjoy the feeling of being smarter than the adults in the book. I wish the ending were drawn out a little more, it seemed to resolve a little too quickly and a little too neatly, but again, I’m an adult with a longer attention span than your average 12 year old in the target audience.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, and it is a nice, modern update to the Nancy Drew genre with a heroine 21st century mothers can be thrilled their girls will want to emulate.
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