Thursday, May 6, 2021


by James Ponti
Recommended Ages: 11+

Margaret and Florian are seventh-grade best friends in Washington, D.C. She's a soccer star. He's a genius detective. Together, they have helped the FBI foil an art heist, a spy ring and a kidnapping. Now they have to decide which of four plausible suspects is trying to frame their FBI handler, a certain Special Agent Marcus Rivers who has become like family to them, before he is forced to resign from the Bureau. It isn't asking much of them. They just have to break into – and more importantly, out of – the Library of Congress and ask an eensy-weensy little favor from a Romanian gangster who secretly – only Florian knows – is Margaret's biological dad.

It's all because somebody with an inside line on the Library of Congress has been passing government secrets to a Russian spy. Books stolen from the library's collection of rare Russian books also turn up when a concerned citizen follows a message in a library book to a PO box full of spy stuff. Cracking the code that the spies are using to communicate with each other is just the first part of figuring out who did it and where they're hiding the evidence. And it's all up to two kids, who have 24 hours to solve the case before their friend's career is over.

Once again, I enjoyed the adolescent energy, humor and intelligence of the hero kids, as well as their surprisingly useful parents. Florian's mom, in particular, shows a certain flair for intelligence work in this outing. The story also opens up views of some of the sights and cultural experiences the nation's capital holds, from little neighborhood libraries and a Russian cafe to the grand library of Capitol Hill and the secret recess of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Different intelligence agencies with their clashing interests, a peek into the preservation of old books, codes, dead drops, and the concept of lawyers being officers of the court are only some of the things young readers may learn from this book, besides some big vocab words and a smattering of the Russian language.

But really, the fun stems from the characters of Florian and Margaret, their amazing abilities, the strain this adventure puts on their friendship, and the personal warmth between them and extending to the people around them. It's a spy-slash-detective caper brimming with laughs, puzzles, tense moments and aha! discoveries, all tied up in a familiar but comfortable structure from the opening jeopardy to the jump backward in story-time at the words (roughly) "This clue changes everything!" Best of all, it's tempting to imagine young brains trying out the "Theory of All Small Things" (TOAST) that makes these two kids so very special.

This is the third "TOAST Mystery," following Framed! and Vanished! James Ponti is an Italian-American author who specializes in books for middle school-aged readers, including junior film novelizations and series about spy kids and young zombie hunters. Here's hoping this isn't his last piece of TOAST!

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