Book Review: Trackers
by Paulette Suhr
Published: May 13, 2010
Prolific middle-grade author Patrick Carman is famous for The Land of Elyon series and last year's techno ghost story, Skeleton Creek. Now he's back with another print/internet hybrid tale called Trackers. It's the story of a group of tech savvy kids that get in over their heads when they start tracking a high-profile cyber criminal.
The team prides themselves on being trackers -- able to find anyone or anything, online or in the real world. Adam, the leader, is a computer genius with a photographic memory. Lewis, the analyzer, is the cautious one who keeps the rest in check. Emily is the levelheaded one with nerves of steel. Finn is the brave and occasionally impetuous one. The actors recruited for these roles are engaging and likeable. The actor playing Finn does a particularly good job.
The book opens with Adam being interrogated by a law enforcement official. Is he local? FBI? We're not sure. But from the line of questioning, it feels like something bad has happened to at least part of the gang. Adam tells the story in a series of flashbacks. It starts innocently enough -- the kids are running a simulation drill with some of Adam's high tech video cameras when things go awry and some of the equipment is lost. During a review of the footage, Adam notices something strange, a mysterious message left at the scene, a message connected to his past.
The kids embark on a mission to find out who left the message and why. But when the hunters become the hunted, nothing is as it seems and danger lurks around every corner.
The book is written with language that's appropriate for middle-graders, though some of the technical descriptions may be a little advanced. Every twenty pages or so, Adam refers his mysterious interviewer to a piece of video footage. Readers can either view the footage on the Trackers website or read a transcript of the clip. One of my major gripes with Skeleton Creek was that it forced readers to put down the book and go to the internet, potentially interrupting the flow of the story for kids with limited web access. The inclusion of written transcripts, in screenplay form, is a smart and simple fix. It makes it possible for people who want to read the book straight through (as I did) to do so. It also makes it possible for kids reading this book under the covers when they're supposed to be asleep to keep reading without having to skip part of the narrative or risk getting caught online in the middle of the night.
The Trackers website also includes maps, photographs, and puzzles to solve. Since Adam solves most of the same puzzles in the book, I'm not sure if solving them gives the reader anything extra, but it might. Chances are, the website is loaded down with Easter eggs and hidden clues, just waiting to be found by diligent and determined readers.
My only complaints are minor -- there's enough product placement in here that Carman should be scoring a Christmas basket laden with fruit, cheese, and stock options from a certain Seattle software company. Also, while the prevailing industry wisdom is that series books should be able to stand on their own, Trackers has an über-cliffhanger ending that pretty much forces readers to commit to the next book. It's a crafty marketing strategy, but it might annoy kids (and grownups!) who lack the ability to delay gratification.
Trackers is a fast, fun read that should appeal to girls and boys, kids and parents, reluctant and voracious readers alike. This reviewer literally can't wait to find out what happens next.