You’ve probably been spending more time at the library these past few weeks since school is out of session. But you’ve never visited a branch in the world quite like Mr. Lemoncello’s.
It has books, of course. There’s also an IMAX theater and holographic librarians. Levitating platforms take patrons up to the highest of shelves, and interactive exhibits beckon with the chance to learn first-hand about history. Oh, and don’t forget the very, very high-stakes game.
“Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is both an ode to learning and a gamers’ adventure. Chris Grabenstein has crafted a lively love letter to brainpower that references authors from Fyodor Dostoevsky all the way to Rick Riordan.
Its hero, however, isn’t much of a book fan. What Kyle Keeley loves are games — video games, word games and board games. He’s always vying against his older brothers (one’s super-smart and one’s a top-notch jock). Twelve-year-old Kyle feels like he has finally triumphed when he wins an essay contest and, as a result, is one of a dozen kids invited for an overnight stay in the town’s new library.
Kyle is particularly thrilled because the designer of this library is none other than Luigi Lemoncello, the master creator of some of Kyle’s favorite games. And Lemoncello doesn’t disappoint: On the morning after the overnight, a surprise is unveiled. In order to get out of the library, the kids have to play — and win — Lemoncello’s game. It’s a modern take on Willy Wonka, minus the candy.
“ ‘The entire library will be the game board. Your children will be the game pieces,’” Lemoncello proudly announces in the morning to parents. “ ‘They can only use their wits, cunning, and intelligence to decipher clues and solve riddles that will eventually lead them to the locations of the library’s super-secret alternate exit. … It’ll be like ‘The Hunger Games’ but with lots of food and no bows or arrows.’”
Grabenstein has neatly pulled off the task of making a book about books as action-packed as possible (as well as giving readers code-cracking insight into the Dewey Decimal system, which figures prominently in the game). There’s plenty of pint-size intrigue as Kyle and his cohorts suss out each other’s talents, for good or ill: Early on, for example, fussy, driven Charles Chiltington tricks one of their group into using the forbidden fire exit.
And Grabenstein — the award-winning author of “The Crossroads” and “The Hanging Hill” who also penned the best-seller “I Funny” with blockbuster-a-minute James Patterson — doesn’t just name-check authors. There’s plenty of pop culture laced through “Library,” like when Akimi suggests to Kyle that they form an alliance.
“ ‘It’s what people do on reality shows like ‘Survivor,’” Akimi explains. “ ‘We help each other until, you know, everybody else is eliminated and we have to stab each other in the back.’”
Reading fans will love catching all the references, gamers will enjoy unpacking the riddles, and parents will kvell at a summer title that celebrates smarts. (Ages 9-12)
Plus size tale
Ann has made peace with her plus size: The 16-year-old is used to lounging poolside in shorts and a tee instead of a bathing suit, and enduring her mother’s disapproving glances when she chooses chicken parmesan and eschews exercise. But when her aunt announces she’s getting married in just a few months — and that Ann will be a bridesmaid — the teen-ager vows to shed her extra weight. “45 Pounds (More or Less)” is the story of Ann’s coming-of-age summer, complete with a job at the mall, friends new and old and navigating the challenges of her relationship with her mother.
Debut young-adult author K.A. Barson captures Ann’s journey with wit and empathy, from her near-disastrous attempts in the dressing room at trendy boutique Snapz! to her painful encounters with her uber-controlling mother:
“ ‘Antoinette! Come on!’” Ann’s mother screeches when she finally finds a bathing suit in her size. “ ‘You’re not a seventeen! That thing is huge! Don’t they have a smaller one?’ …
“For the record: I am a seventeen.
“This is why I cut the tags out of my clothes and prefer to shop alone.”
Barson deftly shows us Ann’s struggles without inviting pity. Instead, readers will root for her success, which doesn’t have a thing to do to whether she loses the weight. It’s a sensitive, engaging portrayal of a demographic too often marginalized. (Ages 12 and up)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Random House, $16.99
45 Pounds (More or Less)