Book Scavenger is a contemporary realistic fiction middle grade novel that takes place in San Francisco. Emily is 12 and tired of moving all over the country with her nomadic-minded parents. They want to live in every state once; Emily does not. However, Emily is excited that she finally gets to be in the same city as Garrison Griswold, the “Willy Wonka of the book publishing world” and maybe even join in one of his giant city-wide games. Griswold runs Book Scavenger, an online/IRL game where participants find clues and solve ciphers to find a physical book hidden around their town (it’s national, but you would obviously go after books you don’t need to get on a plane to find). Emily is a huge fan. She even has a notebook reserved specifically for Book Scavenger puzzles.

Emily is also excited and a little wary to make a friend. James lives upstairs and also loves solving puzzles. They become quick friends, but Emily is uneasy because she never knows when her wacky parents will want to move again. She used to be good friends and Book Scavenger partners with her brother, Matthew, but he acts like he’s too cool and busy for her now. He makes friends instantly wherever he goes, so he doesn’t care about moving, and he is busy filming fan videos for his favorite band, Flush.

On the same day that Emily moves in, Garrison Griswold is brutally attacked in a BaRT station and brought to the hospital in a coma. All of the Book Scavenger fans are worried for him and for the fate of Book Scavenger, the game. Emily and James find a book hidden in that same BaRT station, and they think they’ve found the first book to start off one of Griswold’s famous book hunting games. They race to solve it before her family has to move again, and they find out that someone else is after the book and the two friends as well.

I really liked this book. It was like Mr. Lemoncello but ten times better. The clues and puzzles made sense and actually led somewhere. The characters were real and had their own hopes and dreams and conflicts. The background stories were meaningful, didn’t have to do solely with puzzles, and they even drove the plot along with the game. Matthew is trying to meet Flush, who is in town, it turns out. Emily doesn’t want to be uprooted again and runs into friend problems with James. James makes a bet with another kid in class about solving the cipher problems in his social studies class (His hair is on the line). And there is a marvelous background history for all of the characters involved with the book and publishing industry.

I especially enjoyed hearing in the end notes how the author came up with the idea for the story and threaded random but interesting historical tidbits together. And now I really want to go geo-caching.

Read-alikes:

-More brutal and political, but uses friends solving puzzles (using geo-caching and hacking): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

-Younger and more about games and less character driven: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

-Classic with high vocabulary and more of a mystery about it: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin