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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Girl from Felony Bay, written by J. E. Thompson. Harper, 2013. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"The bay itself probably didn't take up more than three or four acres. However, just like the entrance, the water was uniformly deep, which made it an excellent and totally protected anchorage, especially for people who wanted to stay hidden. It had gotten the name Felony Bay because most of the people who had put their ships there over the years had been criminals."

It has been quite the year for Abbey Force! Her father lies in a coma, accused of stealing one of his elderly client's fortune in jewels. The evidence is seemingly irrefutable. Abbey is sure he has nothing to do with it, and she wants to find proof. As a result of her father's hospitalization and the mounting medical bills, as well as the claims made on his law office, the family home has been sold and Abbey has been forced to live with her good-for-nothing Uncle Charlie and his demanding wife, Aunt Ruth. Neither treats Abbey with decorum, or empathy. Instead, they use her youth and vulnerability to keep the house clean, follow orders and not make any waves.

It is only when she returns to Reward Plantation, her family home, to take care of the horses housed there that she finds comfort for her heartache. When she meets the daughter of the plantation's new owner, Abbey finds a soul mate. Both have faced terrible times, both love horses, and both have a need to know more about the NO TRESPASSING SIGNS they find while exploring Abbey's old home. Together, they set out to find answers to the many questions concerning the land, the accident, and the theft.

In his debut novel, J. E. Thompson creates characters to admire and root for, a setting that has its own innate appeal with its secret pathways, snakes, gators, and even local lore that suggest it might be the site of buried treasure! You can almost hear and feel the hum of the pond critters, the deep darkness of its many hidden niches. The sense of foreboding that surrounds the many discoveries they make as Abbey and Bee seek to solve the mystery is palpable and kept me turning the pages with trepidation for their safety. Isn't that the best kind of book for summer reading?

Abbey and Bee become fast friends quickly, sharing sadness and in need of healing. Both have secrets to keep, and eventually find a way to speak of them to the other. Bee's grandmother is wise, and always there when they need her. The villains are scary, and mostly wicked. The inclusion of the history of the area, and issues of slavery and land ownership add a quiet but poignant dimension. Characters to root for, a fast-paced mystery, and plenty of adventure and suspense...those are the makings of a classic tale that is sure to win fans in intermediate and middle grades.

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