Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, was my final read from the Intermediate 2018 Nutmeg book list. This one took me some time to get through. It has been compared to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, which was a Nutmeg nominee last year. Lemoncello was a book I started and never finished last summer! I feel that these titles should be favorites considering their plots centered on love for books. Not the case for me.
Scavenger is told from seventh grader Emily’s point of view. One of the most intriguing elements of the book for me is that her family is on a quest to live in all fifty states, so they move almost yearly. Emily quotes from her dad’s favorite author, Jack Kerouac, “What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” (234); I like this idea! Anyway, as luck would have it, they move to San Francisco, home of Book Scavenger’s creator Garrison Griswold. This game is like a computer-based hide and go seek that uses books and ciphers that game players must solve in order to hide and locate books. Fun idea.
The opening of the story shows Griswold being accosted and shot, leaving his special copy of Poe’s The Gold Bug in the BART (subway) station. Someone knows that his next game will be valuable and is after its prize. The next day, Emily is out with her upstairs neighbor James when she happens to pick up The Gold Bug. The rest of the story follows their escapades as they discover the clues in the book and begin to follow them to the prize. The men who shot Griswold are in pursuit too, which adds some tension.
Upon finishing the book, I felt that a couple of loose ends remained. The first is the classmate Maddie. I thought for sure she might become friends with James and Emily based on their shared interests of solving puzzles. Instead, they kept the competitive animosity going throughout the book. Second is their odd, meddling teacher, Mr. Quisling, who is also a Book Scavenger player. He is strangely obsessed with getting The Gold Bug back to its rightful owner, and once he takes the book from Emily we don’t really hear anything else about him.
This book has many fun elements (literary allusions, love of books and solving puzzles) and is a nice read. Nice because everything comes together well for everyone (SPOILERS AHEAD): friendships break and mend (Emily and James, Griswold and Hollister), Emily and her brother become close again, Mr. Griswold survives being shot, the bad men don’t hurt anyone else and are caught, even Emily’s parents decide to halt their ambition to live in every state unless their kids are ready for a move.
For me, it’s all a bit too nice and neat, although it is probably just right for its intended age group.