Review: Shelter

Shelter: A Mickey Bolitar Novel by Harlan Coben. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. 2011. Library copy. An Edgar Nominee.

The Plot: Mickey Bolitar is fifteen; his father is dead, his mother is in rehab, and he’s living with his Uncle Myron, someone he barely knows. Mickey is adjusting to his new town and living with his estranged uncle when two things happen: his girlfriend disappears and the Bat Lady (the local crazy old lady) tells him “your father isn’t dead. He’s very much alive.”

Mickey uncovers secret upon secret as he tries to find out what happened to Ashley while learning more about the Bat Lady.

The Good: A tightly plotted mystery that pulls the reader in from the first sentence: “I was walking to school, lost in feeling sorry for myself — my dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing — when I saw the Bat Lady for the first time.” Boom, there are four things to find out more about: what happened to Mickey’s dad? Why is his mom in rehab? And his girlfriend is missing? And who or what is a Bat Lady?

Shelter is the first in a new young adult mystery series from Coben. It centers on one mystery, the missing girlfriend, Ashley, and, rest assured, that mystery is solved. Mickey is a teen, only a sophomore, but he is in a bit of a unique situation. While not an orphan, his mother was unable to deal with the sudden death of her husband and is in rehab. Mickey barely knows his uncle, and keeps him at an arm’s length. In addition, since Mickey is an only child who was raised by parents who traveled the world, he is independent and mature. Also as a result of his slightly odd childhood, he’s not the type who really cares about fitting in with school. Instead of worrying about being popular, or using his basketball talent to become a jock, Mickey dates new girl Ashley and becomes friends who two teens on the fringe of high school society, goth Ema and oddball Spoon.

What I want from a young adult mystery is what I want from an adult mystery: a resolution that makes sense, characters I like, some things I can figure out at the same time (or before) the protagonist and some things I’m surprised by, and no ghosts. OK, that’s not quite accurate, sometimes I like ghosts in my mysteries but I also like when the mystery is “all real” with no supernatural explanations or motivations. Shelter is the no-ghost type of mystery, and it delivers all I expect in a mystery.

I like Mickey; he has a bit of a young James Bond feel to him, because his eclectic upbringing has given him certain talents and experiences that assist in mystery solving. His sidekicks are entertaining and a real help; Ema’s knowledge of tattoos and Spoon’s access to the high school (his father is a janitor) both are needed to solve the mystery. The mystery is a teen one (a friend goes missing) and I was surprised with where Mickey’s investigation took him.

There are some unanswered questions, both big and little, and based on Shelter, I imagine that some of those will be addressed in future books. The adult mysteries I enjoy tend to be series books, so the loose threads left at the end of Shelter were perfect for me: it makes me want to read the next book. Because the main mystery of Shelter was answered (Ashley’s disappearance), I didn’t feel cheated that other questions remain.

When I went looking at the author’s website and the book website, I got a pleasant surprise. It turns out, Uncle Myron is Myron Bolitar who is the main character in a series for grownups by Coben. Not only that, but Mickey and his parents are introduced in one of those books, Live Wire. Guess I have some more books to add to my to-be-read pile! As you can tell from my surprise, the reader doesn’t have to have read that series or that book to fully enjoy Shelter.

Other Reviews: Jen Robinson’s Book Page; An Interview with the Author at Kirkus; YA Sleuth.