Closed for the Season byMary Downing Hahn, 182 pp, RL: Middle Grade
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn, best known for her ghost stories, is a fantastic (and rare) mystery for young readers. Winner of the Edgar Award for juvenile mystery in 2010, Hahn maps out a realistic mystery that could (for the most part) believably be solved by kids, making for an exciting read. The foundation of Hahn's mystery is the friendship that grows by fits and starts over the course of the story between main character Logan Forbes and his new neighbor, the odd, outcast verbivore, Arthur Jenkins.
Closed for the Season begins with the Forbes family driving to their new home in Bealesville, VA, where his father has taken a job as an art teacher. After the long, sweaty ride, to say that thirteen-year-old Logan is disappointed by the run-down, overgrown house that will be his new home is a huge understatement. On top of that, his new neighbor is Arthur Jenkins, a boy who seems to be lacking in any and all social skills, walking right into the Forbes house and eating cereal by the handful straight out of the box. A year younger than Logan, Arthur is overly talkative, opinionated and hard to ignore. Worn down by the heat and the boredom as his father is busy fixing up the house and his mother sits on the porch reading, Logan takes Arthur up on his offer of a tour, on bicycles, of the very small town. It's during this outing that Logan learns why his house is so run down. Known as the "murder house," it is where the former owner, Myrtle Donaldson, was pushed (or fell) down the cellar stairs to her death a few years earlier. Everyone on town thinks she was murdered, especially since her house was ransacked, and there are rumors about a missing briefcase filled with embezzled money from the Magic Forest Amusement Park where she worked for decades. Unable to continue operating, the park closes down and the land is sold off. Abandoned, the park succumbs to kudzu, the cheesy nursery rhyme-themes attractions falling to vandalism and time. The residents of Bealesville spend almost as much time and energy speculating about the whereabouts of the missing briefcase of money as they do rallying to save the Magic Forest.
Arthur convinces Logan that Mrs. Donaldson was not the embezzler and that they should search his house for clues to the whereabouts of the briefcase, especially after a pretty, young reporter working on a story about cold cases, comes to town and interviews them and other people involved. A clue leads the boys to turn to Violet Phelps, Mrs. Donaldson's adult daughter. Violet who is the process of getting divorced from her abusive, bullying husband, Silas, who has just gotten out of jail for the third time. Silas Phelps is part of what earns Closed for the Season a "middle grade" reading level. Hahn paints her characters with a pretty broad brush, but there are enough details about Silas's life of crime and descriptions of his violent abuse of Violet and his son, Danny that it's worth mentioning. As Arthur and Logan uncover clues, Silas, Nina and other adults are often less than a step behind, upping the suspense and adding to the tension that mounts as the first day of school and Arhtur's outsider status jeopardizes Logan's prospects for making new friends and fitting in. But, living in the "murder house" and coming from a family that is not even close to being as wealthy as the bigwigs in town have sealed his social fate already. While the identity of the bad guys is not entirely surprising, the climax is satisfying, especially since Hahn throws in a few twists and turns.
Source: Purchased Audio Book
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