If You're Reading This, It's Too Late
by Pseudonymous Bosch
Recommended Ages: 10+
This sequel to The Name of This Book Is Secret features a recipe for roast villain, instructions for a magic trick, an explanation for why you can hear voices across a lake at dawn or dusk, and an interview with the author, by the author—and that's just the appendix! The remainder of the book, in chapters numbered backward like a countdown, is a weird tale of mystery, magic, and danger. Middle-schoolers Cass and Max-Ernest, among others, get caught up in a caper involving thieves and kidnappers, secret agents, retired carnies, a man-eating monster, and the girl band from aitch-ee-double-toothpicks.
Cass, you may recall, is a pointy-eared girl who wonders who her father was and specializes in survival skills, always handy in the schoolyard jungle. Her best (really only) friend Max-Ernest is obsessed with magic. Together, they hope to frustrate the plans of the Society of the Midnight Sun, a ghastly group devoted to finding a cure for aging and death. But their first mission for the Terces Society (hint: read that name backwards) does not go as planned, and they barely escape with their lives... and with a strange, alabaster ball that makes music when thrown up in the air.
It turns out this Sound Prism has something to do with a weird creature, created five hundred years ago by a sinister alchemist who called himself Lord Pharaoh. The Midnight Sun wants this homunculus, evidently because he guards the Secret to life and death—a secret that the Terces Society is dedicated to keeping, forever.
Cass and Max-Ernest do their best to get to the homunculus first, but once again, their plans go off the rails. While they confide in a third teammate—a hip, guitar-playing Japanese kid called Yo-Yoji—the evil Skelton twins lure another student in their class into a diabolical plot involving cupcakes, stuffed toys, and tickets to a pop concert. Before the night is out, the world will be in serious danger—along with Cass's life.
This series of books combines a down-to-earth depiction of the main characters' quirky family lives with a touch of spooky fantasy, a satire of the body-image mania created by the entertainment industry, and a vocab-building Lemony Snicket approach to narration—i.e., an author who disguises his or her identity, and who tells the story under protest because it's so darn scary. Loaded with bizarre surprises, it's sure to make young readers shiver and giggle in roughly equal amounts. And it already boasts at least three more sequels: This Book Is Not Good for You, This Isn't What It Looks Like, and You Have to Stop This.