Today I get to share a brilliant new middle grade novel which would be perfect for budding detectives: ‘The Key to Finding Jack.’ I also have a special piece from the author about what inspired her to choose Peru as the centre of Jack’s adventure.
Flick’s elder brother, Jack, is heading off on a gap year adventure to Peru. Their father wishes Jack would settle down to his studies and take life more seriously. Flick doesn’t want her joke-loving brother to ever change; she’d quite happily have him stay and carrying on giving her riddles and puzzles to solve.
Disaster strikes when the area of Peru Jack’s travelling in is struck by a devastating earthquake. Phone contact is impossible and Flick’s family are desperate to find out what has happened to him.
The chance discovery of a tiny golden key safely tucked in a box under Jack’s bed sets Flick on the path to solving the most important puzzle he’s ever set her – the puzzle of just exactly where her brother is. The only clue she has to go on is a note attached to the key saying: For S.F to keep until I’m back…
I got totally caught up in the puzzle element of the story as the clues unfolded and read the book in one sitting – always the sign of a great story. I loved the way that each step of Flick’s investigation led her not only closer to finding Jack, but also closer to learning who exactly her beloved big brother was. It also taught a lot about legends surrounding ancient Incan treasure!
It was interesting to see how the family’s expectations of Jack contrasted with what he planned to do with his life, and just how determined he was to forge his own path in the face of disapproval. I loved hearing tales of Jack from all the different people in his life and learning new sides of him.
There are several themes in this book which would make it not only a great individual reader, but also fantastic to share with a class. It can sometimes be difficult to find a good quality text to enjoy alongside a topic but ‘The Key to Finding Jack’ would be the perfect accompaniment for a topic on Peru or Ancient Inca.
The inclusion about Jack’s medical condition (haemophilia) added another layer of depth – it wasn’t a main plot feature, but it was included and normalised nonetheless. I haven’t seen this in a middle grade book before and am always on the lookout for titles which will allow all pupils to see their lives reflected – including diverse families and long-term medical conditions.
Now it’s time to hear from Ewa about why Peru was her country of choice for Jack’s gap year adventure:
‘Why Peru?’ by Ewa Jozefkowicz
The Key to Finding Jack is a story which centres on the disappearance of 12-year old Flick’s brother, Jack, while he’s on his gap year in Peru, and the impact that this has on his family, particularly on his little sister. While in her brother’s bedroom, Flick finds a tiny key on a chain, which she knows Jack used to wear around his neck. Next to it is a note saying ‘For S.F. to keep until I’m back.’ She makes it her mission to find out who these mysterious initials belong to, and begins making a list of all of the people Jack knew who might fit the bill.
Her search takes her to a range of people, some of whom she knows well, like her grandmother Sylvie, and others whom she’s never spoken to, such as Jack’s music teacher, or a girl whom he met while working at the local corner shop. Each one reveals to Flick an element of her brother’s character which she knew nothing about. While the Peruvian search and rescue efforts and the Foreign Commonwealth Office gather clues as to his potential location, Flick pieces together the truth about her brother, which both she and her parents had missed.
I selected Peru as the place in which Jack disappeared, because it’s one of the most fascinating countries that I’ve ever visited, both culturally and geographically. The country is located in a seismic zone, and there is an interface between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates near the Peruvian coast. As a result of this, earthquakes are common occurrences. They’re usually small and in many cases barely noticeable by the local population, but once every few years, a large one occurs, which can cause widespread devastation. It is during one of these earthquakes that Jack goes missing.
Geographically, the country can be split into three distinct regions: a dry coastal strip running along the country’s entire length, which includes part of the Atacama Desert, the Andes in the East and the Amazon rainforest in the South East. Tourists often choose to go off the beaten track and to see more of the ‘real Peru’ beyond Machu Picchu and Cuzco.
The trouble is that in many of the remote areas there is no phone signal, and it’s extremely difficult to get in touch with the wider world in case of emergencies.
One of the things that I found most interesting about Peru is its attitude towards elderly people. Here, more than in any other country that I’ve visited, there’s a real respect for the elderly, and even a National Day which celebrates them. Over the past couple of decades Peru has been undergoing rapid aging, with the proportion of the population over the age of 60 projected to rise by more than 10% over the next thirty years. With this in mind, there have been a lot of innovative approaches to care for the elderly – and Jack has found volunteer work in a modern care home trialling a new approach.
I hope that readers find both the story and the Peruvian setting fascinating. Although at times seismically dangerous, it’s a wonderful place filled with welcoming people and a very culturally rich history.
So interesting – thank you, Ewa.
For me, this story is one of seizing the day, forging your path and living your life to the full! Highly recommended for readers aged 9+
*Many thanks to Zephyr for sending me this title to review and inviting me to be part of the blog tour*