Mysterious Messenger, by Gilbert Ford

If you think a treasure hunt in New York City with a ghost providing the clues sounds like fun for you and/or your kids, pick up Mysterious Messenger, written and illustrated by Gilbert Ford (July 2020, middle grade,  Henry Holt) right away!

Maria's life is constrained by her mother's profession as a fake psychic.  "Madame Destine" makes a living conning the gullible out of valuable possessions, and it's Maria's job to hid in a closet and make sound effects during the seances.  Mr. Fox, the apartment superintendent and more than friend to her mother, makes more sounds from the basement.  Maria doesn't go to school, she's not allowed friends, and her mother is manipulative and controlling (and just terrible at providing healthy meals, nurturing, support, etc.).   Maria's only escape is at the public library, and her only friend (a secret from her mother) is a ghost, Eddy, who can communicate by controlling her writing hand.

When Mrs. Fisher, an elderly widow who isn't well off, is conned out of her wedding ring, Eddy takes action.  Apparently there's a treasure hidden in Mrs. Fisher's apartment, and he starts giving Maria clues about how to find it.  The library's her first starting place, and there she meets a boy named Sebastian, who lives in her appartment building.  Though she's forbidden to talk to him, she can't shake him, and when he finds out that she's on a hunt for treasure, he becomes her comrade. Mrs. Fisher becomes a friend to Maria too, and over the next few weeks Eddy's messages bring all three closer, though no closer to the treasure....

But the librarian is concerned about Maria, and gets the neighborhood police officer to look into her living situation.  Madame Destine and Mr. Fox decide it's time to head out of town, but when they discover the treasure hunt, they want a piece of that action, and Maria, Sebastian, and Mrs. Fisher find themselves in danger.

The clues Eddy provides make this a rather unusual treasure hunt, sending the kids delving into the history of the Beat poets, artists, and musicians with whom Mrs. Fisher and her husband were friends  (a visit to the archives of the NY public library, for instance, and to one of the clubs where poets hung out).   This was fascinating to me, and I assume that smart kids, the sort that are used to picking up all sorts of random information online, will appreciate it too.

I did get frustrated that Eddy didn't provide clearer directions to the treasure, but then I (and Maria as well) realized the treasure wasn't everything.  Eddy turns out to have good reasons for wanting Maria to escape her horrible mother and find friends who can help her, and the journey toward the treasure is what makes this happen....that being said, there is a wonderful, bibliophile's dream of a treasure!

There's also a happy ending for Maria, but I was a little grumpy that once she found out who her father was, and found out Madame Destine was only her stepmother, no one made any effort to find her relatives.  Her dad's family is Puerto Rican, and possibly her mother's too, so it would have perhaps been challenging, but not impossible.

But in any event, this one's a winner for kids who enjoy found families, treasure hunts, books, ghosts, and kids with psychic  powers!  I also appreciated the educational side of things, and in fact have more appreciation for Jackson Pollock than I did last week...though I still am not interested in reading the Beat poets.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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