Sunday, September 05, 2010
The Danger Box, by Blue Balliett
Zoomy is a special little kid who lives with his grandparents Gam and Gumps in the same house where his dad was raised. Zoomy’s never met his dad, since he was left on the doorstep, but his grandparents knew without a doubt that Zoomy was theirs by the note taped to the cat carrier that held him: “Buckeye Chamberlain Is My Father My Name Is Zoomy Kep Me Please”. Even though Zoomy looks nothing like his grandparents they have raised him and try to help him manage.
Zoomy’s got a couple of issues. If he doesn’t keep his lists, his days fly apart and he can’t stop tap, tap, tapping at this chin. His eyesight is so bad that Gumps keeps a running commentary of bumps and curbs when they walk to their shop, "Chamberlain’s Antiques and What Nots" in the heart of their small town of Three Oaks Michigan.
Zoomy lives for his summertime routine involving laundry, the vegetable garden, trips to the public library and his grandparent’s shop, but now there is Lorrol – the firecracker girl who doesn’t live in town, but is in the library this summer trying to avoid going to camp. Zoomy has never been too comfortable with other kids, but Lorrol is different. She doesn’t think he’s weird, she actually thinks that he is smart!
Three Oaks isn’t the kind of town that is ripe for mysteries, but this summer isn’t a typical one. Lorrol isn’t the only person who comes to town unexpectedly. Buckeye comes back, driving a truck and bearing a box that he wants his parents to keep. Zoomy is terrified of his father, who seems random and unpredictable and not exactly loving. Shortly after Buckeye, another stranger shows up who is very interested in the box in Gam and Gumps’ shop. And there is also the journal that Zoomy found wrapped in the quilt that was in the box that his dad brought. It’s peaked his interest with the old dates and the strange words, and all of the lists within.
Blue Balliett has written an extraordinarily atmospheric story, with layers and layers to dig in to. It’s not just a mystery, or a story about a special boy. It’s has friendship and family, history and loss. Readers will not be overwhelmed with Zoomy’s unnamed special needs status (outside of the Pathological Myopa) which Balliett presents as a matter of fact. When I closed The Danger Box I was amazed at how Balliett could seamlessly weave all of the components into the story without it feeling disjointed. In lesser hands, the story could easily have fallen apart.