Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: 13 Hangmen

13 Hangmen
by Art Corriveau

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition
Pages: 352
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: April 1, 2012
Suggested tags: middle grade, mystery

From Goodreads:
" “Some people won’t believe any of this story. You might be one of them. But every single word is true. Tony DiMarco does catch a murderer, solve a mystery, and find a treasure—all in the first few days after he moves, unexpectedly, to 13 Hangmen’s Court in Boston. The fact that he also turns thirteen at the same time is not a coincidence.”

So begins the story of Tony and his friends—five 13-year-old boys, all of whom are living in the same house in the same attic bedroom but at different times in history! None are ghosts, all are flesh and blood, and somehow all have come together in the attic room, visible only to one another. And all are somehow linked to a murder, a mystery, and a treasure."

I received this as an ebook from NetGalley.

13 Hangmen kept me up late at night reading about Tony and his four new friends, all working to solve the mystery of 13 Hangmen's Court. Tony, a mystery lover, explores the house and town in search of clues. He meets Sarah Pickles working at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in town; she's around his age and proves to be a helpful ally. Tony struggles with his suspicious neighbor, Mr. Hagmann, as well as with his own weight and confidence. With the help of his friends, he solves the mystery and proves to be more of a leader than he ever thought he could be.

This book is perfect for history lovers. It made me want to move to Boston like Tony and his family did so that I could live in the middle of all that rich history too. The characters each come from a point in time across nearly 300 years, and they meet some famous historical figures. There is a really interesting fact vs. fiction section at the back of the book that explains what actually happened in history and what the author made up.

I loved the idea that six teenagers from different periods in history could communicate with each other across time. The explanation behind this was very interesting, but very intricate and very scientific as well. I wondered as I read if perhaps it might be a little over some middle grade readers’ heads. I think it would be perfect for readers with a strong interest and knowledge base in math or physics, or Native American spiritualism. But otherwise, it may be a lot to take in and pretty hard to comprehend. It was for me, anyway.

Tony made quite a few big steps over the course of the book. The struggle with his weight is something readers could easily relate to, especially with the pressure from his family. Luckily, he has the support of new friends and the dedication to follow the new ways of eating and exercising that he learns. He comes across as a little unsure of himself at the beginning of the book, but as he makes friends and follows clues, his confidence grows. By the time the mystery of 13 Hangmen's Court is solved, Tony is finally able to recognize his own ability to be a strong, loyal leader.

I wish we could have seen a little more of Sarah throughout the book. She was definitely an important character (SPOILER - highlight to read: I was so happy to see her coming out of the hidden room at the end! I was really hoping she'd make one last significant appearance after all the help she had given Tony!), but she was kept to the periphery of the story. The lack of information made her seem a little mysterious; I kept waiting for a big reveal as to who she really was or what her ties to Hangmen's Court really were. I just would have loved to have learned a little more about Sarah, the way we learned more about the other characters.

Corriveau's writing had a quirk to it when he needed to insert a backstory that I found a little distracting. In the midst of a pretty solid narrative style with good dialogue and nice descriptions, Corriveau would introduce a backstory with a sentence to the effect of "Here's what happened: ... " What followed read more like his own notes for what he would eventually flesh out into a finished version; it was written with a matter-of-fact tone and simple, sometimes choppy sentences, a distinct contrast from the rest of his writing.

Even though there were a few aspects of 13 Hangmen that I didn't love, I enjoyed unraveling the mystery with Tony and the others. I can definitely see this being a favorite book for lots of middle grade readers, especially mystery lovers and history lovers. It's one of those books that could be read again and again; I'd like to read it again myself to see what clues I missed or misinterpreted the first time around.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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