Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: What Could Go Wrong? by Willo Davis Roberts (1989)

Thirteen-year-old cousins Eddie, Charlie, and Gracie practically have to beg their parents, but they are finally allowed to fly on their own to San Francisco to stay with their Aunt Molly. What is supposed to be a routine flight quickly turns suspicious, however, when the plane makes an unexpected landing, an old lady traveling with the kids is attacked, and two sinister characters keep following them around. Before they can enjoy their visit with their aunt, the three kids might just have to help solve a major crime!

Completely by chance, I saw the cover of this book on Novelist K-8 one day while I was searching for something else. Though I never would have thought of the book in a hundred years on my own, seeing the cover made me instantly snap to attention. I knew that I had read this book - and loved it - when I was a kid. I immediately logged into the library catalog and put it on hold. When the book arrived, I read it in one sitting.

As she does in most of her books, Willo Davis Roberts puts the three main characters in What Could Go Wrong? in unlikely but plausible danger. Though I found much of the story silly and predictable as an adult, I can remember being surprised by each new development when I read it back when I was in the target age group. Whether the events of the story seem believable or not is irrelevant, though, because the true appeal of the book is the idea that three kids could fight off criminals on their own, without any help from their parents or other adults in their lives. I think most kids like to imagine what they would do in a dangerous situation. This book takes those imaginings to their naturally exciting conclusion.

Re-reading this book was a pleasant experience, and it reminded me a lot of Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag, where a group of middle school-aged kids also solve a major crime in an airport. Though much of Roberts’s writing is outdated by today’s standards (this book uses the word “Oriental” to describe people on more than one occasion), the subject matter is still relevant and interesting to today’s kids. I don’t think that many kids will pick up this book, given its decidedly retro cover, but mystery readers desperate for a great crime story could probably be persuaded with a compelling booktalk.

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