Publication: April 2010 by Nimbus Publishing
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!
Thirteen-year-old Grace already had way too much going on – grieving over her father’s mysterious death, dealing with her distraught mother’s unpredictable parenting, and evading her creepy nosy neighbour, Mr. Stuckless, just for starters. She and her friends like to get away from it all by going fossil-hunting near their secret hideaway, the abandoned mine they’ve nicknamed “Black Hole.” But when Grace receives a strange note about her father’s death, it sets off a chain of events that sees Grace and her friends turning into detectives to solve the mystery behind his suspicious accidents. As the clues – and suspects – start piling up and the investigation becomes more and more dangerous, Grace and her friends find themselves racing against time through treacherous sinkholes and abandoned mine tunnels to figure out what really happened to her father.
Reading The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines was like taking a huge step back into my childhood. I devoured this book now, and I would have then. With a solid mystery that had me reminiscing of Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew (odd combination, I know, but that’s what I thought of!), I was drawn in by the plot and characters.
Grace, Jeeter, Fred and Mai are four friends who spend their spare time sneaking out to their hiding place in an abandoned mine and looking for fossils. Grace’s father, a fossil hunter himself, died a few months previous in a car accident, and the mystery starts up fast and furious when Grace receives a note in her locker saying it wasn’t an accident. With the help of her friends, Grace sets out to find whoever sent her the note, and to discover if her father is alive or not.
It’s always fun when I can read a book and know the places being discussed and explored, so books set in Nova Scotia always make me happy (having Jo Ann Yhard be a Nova Scotia writer is just double the awesomeness!). I have friends from Sydney and Sydney Mines, so I was able to connect with the book right away. Plus, it was incredibly easy to care about Grace and her friends – I loved their dynamics and friendship. Grace tries so hard to be brave and tough all the time, but she’s lost without her dad and throws herself into solving this mystery in the hope everything will turn out the way she wants it to in the end. She’s a pretty smart cookie, loyal to her friends, wears her heart on her sleeve and is passionate about fossils. Fred and Mai are the fun-loving, quirky, smart, and loyal best friends and fellow detectives. Jeeter seems that way at first, but his character flows and changes as the mystery is unraveled.
And speaking of mystery – so good! I was incredibly happy with the way the kids solved the mystery of the note, and what it could all mean. They didn’t have crazy, elaborate plots or smarts – they just used their good old-fashioned detective skills, put two-and-two together, and had some pretty good luck and people looking out for them. Yea, they were kind of out running the streets and it probably isn’t the safest to play in abandoned mines, but I maintain that kids will be kids, and Grace’s mother did ground her at just a hint that Grace had been hanging out at “Black Hole.” Since I’m not a tween/teen anymore and daily look after 30 kids, I sympathized with Grace’s mother so much. It can’t be easy looking after a headstrong teen when your life’s been turned upside down. I think she handles things pretty well, considering.
The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines is a genuine, well-told mystery that I wouldn’t hesitate to place in the hands of anyone (even mature middle grade readers), no matter their age. I was kept reading trying to figure out “who done it”, and it’s one of those books that feels like an old friend by the time you turn the last page.