Monday, August 6, 2018

MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Zap by Martha Freeman


ABOUT THE BOOK

Eleven-year-old Luis is left looking for answers after a city-wide blackout leads him to an electrifying mystery in this edge-of-your-seat thriller from Martha Freeman.

Luis Cardenal is toasting a Pop-Tart when a power outage strikes Hampton, New Jersey. Elevators and gas pumps fail right away; soon cell phones die and grocery shelves empty. Cold and in the dark, people begin to get desperate.

Luis likes to know how things work, and the blackout gets him wondering: Where does the city’s electricity come from? What would cause it to shut down?

No one seems to have answers, and rumors are flying. Then a slip of the tongue gives Luis and his ex best friend Maura a clue. Brushed off by the busy police, the two sixth graders determine they are on their own. To get to the bottom of the mystery, they know they need to brave the abandoned houses of Luis’s poor neighborhood and find the homeless teen legend known as Computer Genius. What they don’t know is that someone suspects they know too much, someone who wants to keep Hampton in the dark.

In this electrifying mystery, two can-do sleuths embark on a high-tech urban adventure to answer an age-old question: Who turned out the lights?

REVIEW

When the electricity goes out in Hampton, New Jersey, Luis isn't concerned at first.  After all, most of the time such outages are temporary.  It seems like a good chance to enjoy being out of school.  He's more concerned about completing his science fair project in hopes of winning the prize.  But as days go by with the power still out, and authorities seemingly clueless about how to fix it, Luis becomes curious.  After helping his friend Maura get her grandfather to the hospital after he suffers a stroke, he hears something that makes him curious and he starts to investigate.  With the help of a local homeless teen named Computer Genius, Luis and Maura get closer to figuring out the cause of the outage.  But looting, rioting, and expensive supplies are making it difficult to move around town safely.  And someone doesn't want Luis and Maura discovering the source of the outage.  I enjoyed this book for several reasons.  First, the main character is the son of immigrants who live in a disintegrating part of town.  Numerous Spanish phrases and references to life in this geographically segregated area are eye-opening.  Luis has spent a lot of time exploring the abandoned houses in his neighborhood and Computer Genius lives in one of these houses.  Interestingly, the character of Luis is based on the real life and experiences of a friend of the author (he comments on this at the end of the book).  The second part of the book that I liked was the information about electricity and hacking that is blended into the story.  This makes the book especially appropriate for use in STEM classes.  I learned quite a bit about the power grid and computer coding that I didn't know.  This is a fun mystery as well with a great main character.

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