Title: The Danger Box
Author: Blue Balliett
Narrators: Jason Culp, Alex Wyse, and Veronika Dominczyk
ISBN: 9780545249539
Pages: 306 pages
CDs/Discs: 5 CDs, 6 hours 10 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc.

“Planning on turning me in, huh?”
I tried desperately to shake my head no, but by then I hardly knew what was doing what.
Buckeye snorted. “You are a weirdo, aren’t you? Well, no worries — I’m not about to be caught.” He was talking in my ear, and his breath smelled nasty, like old sauerkraut. “And if you tell anyone you saw me, you’re as good as gone. Hey, you’re just an accident with an invisible name — easy to clean up an accident.”(100)

Twelve-year-old Zoomy Chamberlin was dropped on his grandparent’s doorstep in Three Oaks, Michigan shortly after he was born. In those twelve years worth of time, he has learned that making lists helps him make sense of his life. Without his lists, he’d be a goner. It certainly isn’t on his list for the day to have his father suddenly appear in a stolen truck and just as suddenly disappear, leaving behind a box. Inside that box is a notebook, containing lots of crossed out lists just like Zoomy makes. Zoomy has an instant connection with the author of the notebook, and sets out to discover everything he can about it. With the help of his new friend Lorrol, Zoomy might discover that some people want secrets to stay a secret.

Everyone keeps telling me great things about Blue Balliett’s work, so I thought I would pick up his newest one The Danger Box. So I picked it up as an audiobook, thinking I would enjoy this book as other people have enjoyed his previous works. That however, was not the case.

First, the narration. Zoomy talks about the fact that he has Pathological Myopia, which makes him legally blind. He explains it this way:

“Stick your finger straight out from the tip of your nose: That’s how far I can focus clearly. To see farther, I have to put on my glasses, which are heavy. The lenses are about as thick as a homemade oatmeal cookie, and the frames are brown. […] From my side, the glasses let me see exactly an arm’s length in front of my face, but the stuff on the edges looks bendy even if it’s straight.” (20)

What he doesn’t explain is what else is wrong with him mentally. I’m not a psychologist by any means, but if I had to guess I would have to say Zoomy is either OCD or has a case of Asperger’s Syndrome. He cannot function without lists and has difficulty interacting with people. Whenever something happens that isn’t on his elaborate list, he goes “jittery-splat” and copes by repeatedly hitting his chin and counting aloud. His grandparents seem to encourage this coping technique, probably because they seem to have fallen out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, complete with their own little quirky sayings like “If turtles have wings!” and “Hodilly-hum”.

The second complaint I have about this book is that the danger box is not the dangerous thing. After a short prologue-like introduction, readers don’t even get a glimpse of the danger box until halfway through the story. The notebook that Zoomy discovers isn’t all that dangerous either, and it’s simply the people who are after it that appear dangerous. Even then Zoomy’s father, who is only remotely connected to the crime that takes place, appears more menacing than the man trying to recover the notebook. The timeline imposed upon Zoomy and Lorrol seems to be there only to add urgency, with mixed success.

The ending is so squeaky clean that it’s amazing if readers don’t hear that annoying shoes on a wet floor sound by the time they finish the last page. This is another aspect that brings to mind the old sitcom shows, like Leave it to Beaver or the Brady Bunch. Completely unrealistic.

Finally, the inclusion of excerpts from “The Gas Gazette: A Free Newspaper About a Mysterious Soul” is just plain annoying. You don’t know what they are until the book is almost over, and they break up what little action there already is. In the audiobook, they have a female voice for just that portion, which really doesn’t make sense because the “mysterious soul” is male. It would have made more sense for that actress to narrate Lorrol’s lines, because the narrator some times doesn’t distinguish between Lorrol or Zoomy.

It really missed its mark with me, with its only saving grace that the story revolves around an actual mystery. Well, that, and it’s set in Michigan, which I’m always looking for good Michigan stories. Fans of his previous work might take a look at it, but there are more gripping mysteries with less annoying and more-developed characters.

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