I’ve enjoyed several books for young readers by Balliett, including her award winner Chasing Vermeer, and the sequels The Wright 3 and The Calder Game. Each of those books had a famous artist and one of their works at the center of mysteries and suspense. This book has some similarities, but here the famous person is a scientist, Charles Darwin, and the mystery and suspense surrounds a stolen notebook that comes unexpectedly into the hands of a boy in a small Michigan town. The boy’s name is Zoomy, and he has many challenges in his life, including very poor eyesight that makes everything in the distance into blurry Deeps, as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that causes him to act strangely and sets him apart from other kids at school. Zoomy lives with his very understanding grandparents, and together they discover something that helps the boy: writing in notebooks, keeping lists and crossing things off when he’s done them. Zoomy has many such notebooks, and the mysterious old one is right up his alley. Despite the very difficult to read handwriting, it’s much like his own, full of lists and crossed-off items. A few key words like Galapagos put Zoomy and his friend Lorrol on the research trail toward tying the notebook to Darwin’s famous voyage that led to his groundbreaking discoveries about evolution. There’s a problem, though, the man who was carrying the stolen notebook before it was stolen from him by Zoomy’s father, has traced it to the small town of Three Oaks where Zoomy lives, and he will do anything to get that notebook back, no matter who it hurts or what it endangers.
I liked this book even more than some others by Balliett, partly because of the great characters, and partly because the story seemed to flow more naturally from the characters and situations, rather than being as plot-driven or even contrived as some of the others. I recommend it highly.