Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Review: The 39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Extent: 327 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 31st August 2010

The explosive finale to Scholastic's mega-selling series.

Throughout the hunt for the 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill have uncovered history's greatest mysteries and their family's deadliest secrets. But are they ready to face the truth about the Cahills and the key to their unmatched power? After a whirlwind race that's taken them across five continents, Amy and Dan face the most the difficult challenge yet- a task no Cahill dared to imagine. When faced with a choice that could change the future of the world, can two kids succeed where 500 years worth of famous ancestors failed?

The first thing that comes into my mind when I think of The 39 Clues? Fun! They are like drinking squash without diluting it. Ok, that’s sounds disgusting, but what I mean is that they are such quick, easy reads but at the same time they are jam packed with action, adventure, intrigue, betrayal, ecstasy, despair, revelation, excitement, terror… Need I go on? I don’t know how they manage it but each book is stuffed full – they are the little books with the big stories.

Amy and Dan make great heroes and a really believable brother and sister. So many times I read books where siblings have uncomfortably close relationships when in reality 99% of siblings have a great deal of love and friction. These two squabble and fall out all the time but so too do they work extremely well together, pulling on each other’s skills and knowledge to work in the only effective team in the clue hunt. The pair are great role models for kids (and me!), showing that hard work, courage and self-belief lead to great rewards. Probably a great attribute to these stories is that the vast majority of the other characters are the bad guys, everyone is an enemy in the clue hunt but each person has something to give to the reader, whether it’s the mistakes they’ve made, the lessons they’ve learnt or the way they change. Each character begins as an enigma but as they series grows, their true characters unfold.

I finally got around to reading the 10th book in the series, Into The Gauntlet, which marks the end of the original clue hunt but opens the story up to an even bigger adversary… About that I shall say no more! What I really enjoyed was actually how touching this book was and naturally it’s all down to the kids. Throughout the series the parents or older relatives of the clue hunters have always represented the element of the insane, the obsessive and often the psychotic. At first, the children kept up with their parents but some of the decisions those adults made during the clue hunt have led the kids to start questioning their motivation. At last, when they are all forced together, completely cut off from the poisonous influence of their elders, the penny drops for all of them and their inherent morality takes a stand. I think it’s probably true that the young generation find it hard to maintain the grudges of the older generations, especially when those grudges cause them to take action that is morally wrong. I had thought that the ending would be horribly superficial but I’m so glad it spans most of the book and is as serious as it is because it gives the whole series a point.

I’m a real fan of this series, and even though it’s meant for middle grade kids, they are definitely the kind of books that can also be enjoyed by older teens or adults because they are never patronising. In fact they deal with some pretty heavy issues and I’m glad the writers haven’t shied away from that. I have delved into the online side of the books as they are designed to go hand in hand with a really excellent website – and yes, I have spent hours playing the games and solving the mysteries so I can verify it is a really enjoyable website. The creators have taken great care to bring the clue hunt to life with the cards, the website and the hidden messages in each book and personally I think they have really achieved what they set out to do. It’s a great series: lots of fun but with serious edges, easy to read but not patronising, definitely one I’ll keep reading.

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