Thursday, January 19

Shelter

by Harlan Coben
A Mickey Bolitar Novel
Putnam  2011

When his girlfriend goes missing, and no one else seems to notice or care, Mickey begins to dig around and finds himself caught up in a web of... human sex trafficking!

His dad is dead, his mom is in rehab, his girlfriend of three weeks has gone missing, and the neighborhood crazy lady has scared the pants off Mickey... all in the first sentence of this mystery. The details will come in short order, but what is clear from the very beginning is that Coben isn't pulling any punches when it comes to ratcheting up the tension in what looks to be the promising beginning of a new mystery series for YA readers.

Mickey isn't some kid who starts out with aspirations to become a detective or with any particular skill-sets that tip of he's something special, he's just a typical kid who's been forced to bum around the world with his parents while they did their various humanitarian missions. But with his dad killed (under not-so-accidental conditions as Mickey will learn) and his mother in rehab over the loss, Mickey's been foisted onto his uncle in his dad's old home town where the family name draws ire in some quarters. Being the new kid, befriending the heavy goth girl because he's the only one with some decency, finding himself with a nerdy sidekick, and not taking any crap from the bully-jocks sets Mickey up for the reluctant anti-hero mold, but things don't start rolling until his girlfriend of three weeks – also a new kid in town – goes missing without a trace. With a little deviousness, and a lot of chutzpah, Mickey suddenly discovers that no one in the town is who they seem, not even his parents.

That Coben takes us from local to global by making the mystery at the heart of the story about human sex trafficking is, I think, a bold recognition that teen readers looking for mystery stories don't talk down to them while maintaining their human scale. There's real danger involved as kids are dealing with scary gun-toting adults but there are no unbelievable super-heroics and no sense that the story elements are really that far-fetched. It also doesn't hurt that Coben knows how to dump twist after twist into the story, including turns that you had no right to expect out of the middle of nowhere. It reads faster than a lot of adult beach reads and is twice as smart.

In the recent trend of adult writers who dip into writing for middle grade and YA, Coben is the first I've read who really seems to understand the value in creating books that build an audience base. Just because you like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books or Lemony Snicket doesn't mean you're going to like those author's adult books. Even Elmore Leonard, who I thought would make a perfect crossover writer, didn't get it, but Coben does. It's a smart move, because any teen who likes this can probably jump to Coben's adult titles pretty quickly.

This is how you do a YA to adult crossover.

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