The story starts with a bang—literally. Nanoseconds after hearing it, Andy Forrest jumps for cover. The ominous-sounding gunfire came from inside the house of Assistant Principal Jacob Farley, which Andy, the hero of “Mystery in Mt. Mole,” was just about to enter.
After marshaling enough courage to enter Mr. Farley’s house, Andy is expecting to see some sort of mayhem. But instead of finding a bloody corpse, he finds that Mr. Farley is missing. What’s especially curious is the messiness of his living room. Mr. Farley is a neat freak, but in the living room are his pajamas underneath a huge pile of popped popcorn, and on the coffee table are a few overdue movie rentals.
After alerting fellow townspeople of the crime against Mr. Farley, Andy, an almost 13-year-old gifted student, is shocked and dismayed when no one seems to care. The indifference extends even to people whose job and calling are to care about the townspeople, like the chief of volunteer police, Chief Eagle Talon; the pastor, Reverend J. Clement Oxide; and even Andy’s own mother, Irene.
Since the authorities and other responsible adults fail to investigate Mr. Farley’s disappearance, Andy takes on the job of investigator. Compiling a list of suspects proves quite arduous. At the mere mention of his name, a townsperson’s expression would sour. Andy discovers that Mr. Farley has a “special knack for irritating people.”
But everyone has flaws, including Andy.
Andy is introspective and thinks deeply about different subjects, to which readers are privy. However, he has one obvious flaw: He doesn’t pay enough attention to people when they’re talking to him. (Just ask his teachers.) And his flaw eventually hampers his investigation of the missing Mt. Mole citizen.
But Andy has a couple of things going for him. He knows the people in his community. He also owns a battery-powered scooter that he named Pegasus after the mythological Greek horse that had wings, and—without giving away too much of the story—a pet hermit crab, Stony.
Andy’s community is a small prairie town in Kansas, with a phenomenally high hill on the outskirts from which the town takes its name. Zipping around town on Pegasus questioning suspects and searching for clues, Andy occasionally stops to look at Mt. Mole. Something seems peculiar to him. The mountain is changing shape and growing bigger.
Despite the quirky townspeople and unsettling mountain, readers glean that Andy is deeply connected to his community. Rather than wishing he were elsewhere, Andy is content living in Mt. Mole and concerned with the welfare of his community.
Some YA readers might think Andy naïve about life, but this is where the true strength of the novel comes to the fore. Jennings, a funny and clever author, touches on a real yearning and need we have to connect with our immediate and extended family, friends, church, community, and also land.
With an ever-increasing mobile population and family breakdown, many juveniles are lonely and look for connection in all the wrong places. Instead of stable and solid role models, their identities are molded by peers, television, or movies.
What “Mystery in Mt. Mole” offers readers is a funny adventure with a character who learns his values closer to home, and thinks of others as well as himself.
Image copyright Houghton Mifflin. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's local library.
Kim Morelandis the managing editor for the Colson Center, manages the Colson Center Library, is a research associate for BreakPoint, and writes feature articles and blog posts for BreakPoint.
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