The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd;
David Fickling Books: New York, 2008; $15.99
The London Eye Mystery is perfect for any reader who is looking for a spectacular book with an even balance of suspense, warmth, and mystery. Told from the perspective of Ted Sparks, a unique preteen with Asperger’s Syndrome, a kind of autism, it is moderately fast-paced, and Siobhan Dowd brings settings and characters to life. Because Ted’s brain runs on “a different operating system,” as he puts it, his thoughts are quite unusual for someone his age, which tends to be challenging for people around him, since he struggles to connect with people and their interests. His intense fascination with weather and numbers makes his family members a little exasperated! But when a visit from his Aunt Gloria and her teenage son, Salim, suddenly becomes suspenseful when Salim disappears off the London Eye (a popular Ferris wheel in London), it will take all of Ted’s unusual brainpower and his older sister Kat’s determination to solve the who, what, where, when, why, and how of this breathtaking mystery.
One of the most compelling elements of this novel was the sense of familiarity with the characters. By the second or third chapter, the reader feels as though he or she could easily know the Sparks family in person. Every chapter had me wishing for more, and I wanted to make sure Kat and Ted don’t get in too much trouble trying to find Salim. Kat and Ted are probably the most humorous of the characters. Kat is reckless, impulsive, and frequently in motion. Ted is proper, straightforward, and unknowingly funny. He calls himself a “neek”—halfway between a nerd and a geek. But both his sharp memory and Kat’s wild instincts are needed to find Salim and restore peace to the family. Only they can really think straight about Salim’s disappearance because Aunt Gloria and her ex-husband are in hysterics and Kat and Ted’s mother and father are really too frightened and worked up to think strategically in terms of where Salim might be. Kat and Ted make a good, determined, mystery-solving team. As the story goes on, they learn to understand each other better and be more tolerant of one another.
I liked this book not only because of its strong plot but because I could relate to autism, since my older brother has it. Also, it helps spread awareness among young people about the disorder. In some ways my brother is different from Ted; he is less interested in mathematics, facts, and numbers; however, like Ted, my brother likes weather. Also like Ted, he sometimes takes things a little too literally. For example, when a sportscaster once stated that a certain athlete had “baseball in his blood,” my brother grew upset because he thought it meant that the man had a disease. When Mrs. Sparks says that Kat has Mr. Sparks wrapped around his finger, Ted imagines “…Kat wrapped round and round, over and over again, around Dad’s finger.” This problem of taking things literally can be both humorous and frustrating. My brother and I are similar to Kat and Ted in that, even though we get on each other’s nerves, we are close. This novel helped me realize that I wasn’t the only person who had a sibling with autism.
Overall, I recommend this compelling, funny, and fast-paced mystery for young people ages nine and up. It is a wonderful mixture of humor and reality, and the wonky but loving relationship between siblings.