Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles has synesthesia, a condition in which the senses are hyperobservant and sometimes confused. Especially in a crowd, noises have always “hit him from every side — flashes of color that obstructed his vision.” Jack’s condition sometimes makes ordinary life difficult. What he’s about to discover is that it may also give him strengths that will help him survive an unexpected mission.
Jack and his mother and sister are in London after Jack’s father’s strange disappearance, searching for any remaining traces of him. After Jack’s sister, Sadie, thinks she sees their father on the street and takes off after him, the children wind up at the Lost Property Office, a mysterious and magical organization where Jack is taken in hand by Gwen, a 12-year-old apprentice clerk.
Before he knows it, Jack and Gwen are on a wild chase across the city, pursuing a man who claims to be holding Jack’s father, but is asking a deadly ransom.
“The Lost Property Office” by James R. Hannibal is the first in a projected series for middle-schoolers called Section 13. Hannibal, according to the book jacket, has synesthesia himself, so he writes about Jack’s strengths and weaknesses from an insider’s perspective. He also creates a vivid fantasy world in which Jack, as a “tracker,” is able to see visions of past events, like the Great Fire of London, and use them to find a missing magical artifact in the present.
Hannibal’s writing will likely please young readers who love detailed descriptions of fantastic inventions and machines, or who have an interest in history. He has great skill in world-building. (He even comes up with wild stuff like chocolate bars with shellfish in them!) There are also plenty of Sherlock Holmes references for those who enjoy them.
For fans of action and adventure, however, the book may lag somewhat. The plot, which mostly follows Jack and Gwen running around London collecting clues, grows monotonous after a while, and sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the mass of detail. Additionally, Gwen can be extremely know-it-all and bossy, which soon gets annoying. And even in a fantasy book, it starts to strain credulity that two children, even gifted ones, could save London from such a powerful and dangerous villain as the one presented here.
There’s no profanity or sexuality in “The Lost Property Office”; there are hints that Gwen and Jack are attracted to each other, but only hints. The violence, however, feels over-the-top at times. The book opens with the electruction of a police constable by a clockwork beetle, and that’s only the first of several incidents that may be a bit hard on sensitive readers.
This is not to say that “The Lost Property Office” is a bad book, just that it’s not for every reader. There’s not much for parents to be concerned about aside from the violence, and young readers with patience and imagination may find a lot to enjoy.
Image copyright Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.