The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, by Megan Frazer
Blakemore; Bloomsbury Children’s Books:
New York, 2015; $7.99
In 1953 Hazel Kaplansky is a fifth-grader who wants badly to be a detective. She has read all the Nancy Drew books in her library, feels that she is the perfect sleuth, and is prepared to solve any mystery that comes her way. But none ever do. Until… rumors of communist spies in Hazel’s own town, Maple Hill, begin to float around.
Hazel is very eager to help find these potential spies. Finally, she will have something interesting to put in her so far boring Mysteries Notebook. So when she has a hunch that Mr. Jones, the hired gravedigger at the cemetery that her parents run, is up to no good, she starts doing some sleuthing. With the help of Samuel, a new boy in town, who is maybe, possibly, even smarter than Hazel, she uncovers many clues, but, as Samuel says, no concrete evidence.
Even though there is no solid evidence, Hazel is absolutely sure “The Comrade,” as she calls Mr. Jones, is a spy. Otherwise, how can the locked safes he receives from Mr. Short, the father of a mean girl in Hazel’s class, be explained? Or the objects he leaves at a grave? This grave, marked “Alice, Ten Years Old,” seems to be a drop-off spot for information.
Then there is the mystery of Samuel himself. Everyone seems to know something about his mother that they won’t tell Hazel. Even Hazel’s classmates know. Hazel wants to find out and believes Samuel’s mother must be a communist spy. Then Hazel realizes that thinking every other person in her town is a spy is getting her nowhere, and she is hurting more than one person’s feelings.
I connected to Hazel a lot, because I live in Vermont like she does, and I like to climb trees, ride my bike, and I am in fifth grade. Also, she is something of a tomboy, as am I.
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill got me interested McCarthyism and the Red Scare. I did some research about the time period, and I thought it was interesting to learn about when some people were afraid the U.S. would become a communist nation, and Senator Joseph McCarthy made their fears seem real.
When I asked my grandfather about the Red Scare and how it affected his family, he said what he most remembered were extended hearings on television almost every day, where Senator McCarthy sat, making accusations. Also, he said a local priest, who was determined to root out all communists, accused the principal at the high school he went to of having communist ties. It was neat talking to him and hearing about what he remembered from the early 1950s. I liked learning about a time that seems long ago about which I formerly knew so little.
I really loved this book because I changed my mind so many times. Sometimes I thought Hazel was completely correct, and everyone else was wrong; sometimes I was convinced Hazel was not being observant enough, and she might be mistaken.
My favorite thing about this book was that it has a surprise ending. The ending was not at all what I imagined. Also, the author did something very rare: she ended this book in the perfect place. I do not think this book needs a sequel at all, not even an epilogue, because the end is entirely satisfactory.