Click Here to Start by Denis Markell, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 5 and up; mystery, adventure
Despite bearing his first name, twelve-year-old Ted Gerson doesn’t know his Great-Uncle Ted very well. It comes as a surprise that Great-Uncle Ted wants to see Ted alone before he dies, and an even bigger surprise that the older Ted has an interest in the computer games that his great-nephew loves. When his great-uncle passes away, Ted finds that he has inherited his relative’s apartment, “with all the treasure it contains”. Ted’s parents warn him that Great-Uncle Ted was a bit of a hoarder and probably had an unusual definition of “treasure”. But Ted is still excited to sort through the apartment’s contents with his best friend Caleb. Unfortunately, his father forces him to bring along his new boss’s daughter Isabel. The three kids don’t find a treasure as such, but they do find old video game controllers that fascinate the boys and lots of books that attract Isabel’s attention. Things get strange when Ted goes home and returns to his favorite online computer games. There’s a game based on his Great-Uncle’s apartment. And when he goes back to the apartment and compares its layout to the game design, he finds the same set of “clues” that he saw on the game. What results is a mystery adventure in which the three protagonists use Ted’s gaming proficiency and Isabel’s extensive general knowledge to follow a complicated series of clues leading towards an unidentified treasure that Great-Uncle Ted evidently brought back from World War II. But someone else is looking, too.
The basic plot is slightly cliché, but no one who loves a good mystery will mind. I would strongly recommend this book to fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and/or Book Scavenger, especially if said fans are looking for something geared just slightly older than those books. Click Here to Start is definitely a middle-school book, although some fifth graders and even a few precocious fourth graders could enjoy it as well. But it requires enough background knowledge that most children much younger than the protagonists will be confused. World War II is a significant part of Great-Uncle Ted’s backstory, as well as twelve-year-old Ted’s cultural identity. (Ted is half Jewish and half Japanese) Also, Isabel, her father, and Ted’s father make frequent references to academic literary works that will mean nothing to a young reader. Admittedly, even with my college English major, I’m not very familiar with Henry James and have never read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.
Although I can easily shrug off the clichéd plot, (after all, there are certain elements that are necessary for a good mystery) it’s a little harder to dismiss the characterization. You’ve got Ted, the stereotypical gamer boy who is smarter than he realizes, his best friend who is largely defined by that friendship, and the snobbish, “perfect,” rich girl. Ted’s dad makes bad jokes, his mom is fixated on his budding relationship with Isabel, and his sister is an overachiever currently attending Harvard. Isabel’s widowed father is the stereotypical overprotective rich Dad, while Caleb comes from the token broken family. The antagonist, of course, has a one-track mind and a propensity for cruelty, although we don’t see this until we know that he’s the bad guy. Great-Uncle Ted is the only major character who is very full developed, and he’s dead by the start of Chapter 3.
But despite its reliance on common tropes, this story is interesting and the writing style is somewhere between “good” and “excellent”. This is not a book that I expect to win the Newbery or Printz medal or the National Book Award, nor would I go as far as to call it a classic in the making. But it definitely deserves adjectives along the lines of “good”, “recommended” and “exciting”, and I foresee it being highly popular with a general audience.