Shelter (Mickey Bolitar Series #1)

Shelter (Mickey Bolitar Series #1)

4.2 188
by Harlan Coben

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A young adult debut from internationally bestselling author Harlan Coben

Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools.

A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comesSee more details below

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A young adult debut from internationally bestselling author Harlan Coben

Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools.

A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comes with a great new girlfriend, Ashley. For a while, it seems like Mickey's train-wreck of a life is finally improving - until Ashley vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let another person walk out of his life, Mickey follows Ashley's trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father. Soon, Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it makes high school drama seem like a luxury - and leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

First introduced to readers in Harlan Coben's latest adult novel, Live Wire, Mickey Bolitar is as quick-witted and clever as his uncle Myron, and eager to go to any length to save the people he cares about. With this new series, Coben introduces an entirely new generation of fans to the masterful plotting and wry humor that have made him an award-winning, internationally bestselling, and beloved author.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this suspenseful, well-executed spin­off of his bestselling Myron Bolitar mystery series for adults, Coben introduces readers to Myron’s nephew Mickey, a high school sophomore who is reluctantly living with his uncle after his father died in a car crash and his mother went into rehab. When Mickey’s new girlfriend, Ashley, vanishes just weeks into the school year, Mickey attempts to find her. With the aid of new friends Spoon and Ema, Mickey discovers that everything he knew about Ashley was false, and the truth is fraught with danger. Simultan­eous­ly, he looks into the history of the enigmatic Bat Lady, a local recluse who claims to have knowledge of his father. As the two mysteries intertwine, Mickey learns more than he ever expected about those closest to him. While Mickey’s voice is occasionally too sophisticated for his age, and he’s a little too good to be true, it doesn’t make this thriller any less enjoyable. Coben’s semi-noir style translates well to YA, and the supporting cast is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a strong start to the series. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Sharon Martin
Harlan Coben's first young adult novel, Shelter, is a many-layered story that reveals itself tantalizingly slowly. It starts with Mickey Bolitar at a new school mourning the death of his father and looking forward to his mother's release from rehab. As the layers peel away, we discover that Mickey is used to being the new kid (his parents worked all over the world), and that he befriends the outcasts. Then the town's resident recluse, "Bat Lady", tells him that his father is not dead. Mickey investigates this revelation, and more layers are peeled away when Mickey displays unexpected martial arts skills as he fights the bouncer at the "Plan B Go-Go Lounge" while looking for his missing girlfriend. Finally, Mickey discovers a link between "Bat Lady", the Go-Go Lounge, a resistance fighter from World War II Poland — and his parents. This is not a gritty version of the suspense genre; even the scenes at the Go-Go Lounge have a PG sense to them. It has a "safe" feel to it, making it a stepping stone to the adult suspense field for younger teens. The plot, however, is intricate enough to satisfy older teens (and adults), while Mickey is the action hero you fantasize you are. Are his actions and voice too "heroic" and unrealistic, does his outlook seem too mature for his age? Yes, but you are happy to put that aside and just enjoy the story, which ends with a cliffhanger, setting up the next book. Reviewer: Sharon Martin
Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
Proceed with caution: once you pick up this book, you won't be able to put it down. Six-foot four, two hundred pounds and only a sophomore in high school, Mickey Bolitar is larger-than-life...and has already experienced more than his share of it. An only child, his entire youth was spent traveling overseas, where his atypical experiences included getting a (parentally-endorsed) fake I.D. and mastering jujitsu. Add to that an athletic pedigree from both parents and Uncle Myron (the hero in many Coben adult books), and you have one pretty spectacular teenager. It seems Mickey has everything going for him, but this is how the story opens: " dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing...." Joined by new friends and sidekicks Ema (a gutsy tattooed girl) and Spoon (nerdy but resourceful son of the school custodian), Mickey determines to find his missing girlfriend. The search takes numerous twists, running the gamut from a seedy bar to a Holocaust heroine. The father of four and the only recipient of the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Awards, author Coben is uniquely qualified for, and more than up to, the task at hand. A master at creating both page-turning suspense and memorable characters, Coben has crafted a tale—and a hero—that will appeal to long-standing fans as well as a new generation. The only problem is the sequel isn't out yet. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
ALAN Review - Joy Frerichs
This first YA book by the author is a riveting story of Mickey Bolitar who, besides dealing with his father's death and his mother's addiction, gets involved in a series of adventures. Mickey's new girlfriend is missing. His search for her leads him into the darker side of life, involving unscrupulous men and white slavery. The quirky friends, his natural athletic prowess, along with his experiences growing up with his nomadic parents give Mickey an edge on facing foes. Mickey is a white knight coming to save the day. A special symbol, a Nazi survivor, and the questionable death of Mickey's father leave much material for sequels. The realism and action of the book make it a page-turner and one that boys especially will enjoy. This book is an extension of the author's adult series about Myron Bolitar and is the first in a young adult series that should be most successful. Reviewer: Joy Frerichs
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Coben's first YA novel starts off with a bang and keeps going strong until the end. Sophomore Mickey Bolitar's happy, globe-trotting family returned to the States so that the teen could complete high school. Then Mickey sees his father killed in an accident and his bereft mother, who has taken to using drugs, enters rehab. Mickey goes to live with his Uncle Myron. On the way to school one morning, he encounters the Bat Lady, an old woman who lives in a dilapidated house, who tells him that his father is not dead, and disappears. Strangely enough, Ashley, a girl with whom Mickey has formed a relationship, also disappears. When he tries to find out what happened to her, he learns more than he bargained for about Ashley, the Bat Lady, and his own family. The cast includes Spoon, who has a tendency to spout odd bits of information at the wrong time; Ema, a self-proclaimed "fat girl" who dresses all in black, is covered in tattoos, and has some secrets of her own; and Rachel, the hottest girl in school. Myron Bolitar, the protagonist in Coben's adult mystery series, tries to take care of Mickey but doesn't really know how to be a parent. The boy has more freedom than most teens, giving him the opportunity to search for answers to his questions. Edgy and action-filled, the novel has interesting, likable characters, and it should fly off the shelves. The ending ties up some loose ends but leaves readers awaiting the sequel.—Diana Pierce, Leander High School, TX
Kirkus Reviews

Being the new kid at his high school is the least of Mickey Bolitar's worries; how about a missing girlfriend and dad's possible rising from the dead?

Walking to school one morning, Mickey is accosted by an eerie old lady (whom he dubs Bat Lady) who dramatically declares that his father is alive, despite the fact that Mickey saw his dad die in a car accident. Bat Lady is only on a back burner of Mickey's lively mind; in the forefront is finding out what happened to new girlfriend Ashley Kent, who stopped coming to school one day. Attempts to learn more have been stonewalled by teachers and the administration. Mickey teams up with two unlikely sidekicks: Ema, a sarcastic overweight goth girl whom Mickey rescued from humiliation in gym class, and Spoon, a hacker nerd who knows all about Mickey's mad basketball skilz (which he's keeping under wraps). Many daredevil acts ensue. This teen spinoff of the prolific Coben's adult Myron Bolitar (Mickey's uncle) series (Long Lost,2009, etc.) benefits greatly from his trademark crackerjack pace and multi-layered plotting. Most of the time, Mickey's short-attention-span snark seems both age appropriate and believable. His mother's struggle with drug addiction adds poignancy.

A not-bad-at-all entry into the teen market for this adult author.(Mystery. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Mickey Bolitar Series , #1
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

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Chapter 1

I was walking to school, lost in feeling sorry for myself—my dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing—when I saw the Bat Lady for the first time.

I had heard the rumors, of course. The Bat Lady supposedly lived alone in the dilapidated house on the corner of Hobart Gap Road and Pine. You know the one. I stood in front of it now. The worn yellow paint was shedding like an old dog. The once-solid concrete walk was cracked into quarter-size fragments. The uncut lawn had dandelions tall enough for the adult rides at Six Flags.

The Bat Lady was said to be a hundred years old and only came out at night, and if some poor child hadn’t made it home from a playdate or practice at the Little League field before nightfall—if he or she risked walking home in the dark instead of getting a ride, or was maybe crazy enough to cut through her yard—the Bat Lady got you.

What she supposedly did with you was never made clear. No child had vanished from this town in years. Teenagers, like my girlfriend, Ashley, sure, they could be here one day, holding your hand, looking deep into your eyes, making your heart go boom-boom-boom—and be gone the next. But little kids? Nope. They were safe, even from the Bat Lady.

So I was just about to cross to the other side of the street—even I, a mature teenager entering my sophomore year at a brand-new high school, wanted to avoid that spooky house—when the door creaked open.

I froze.

For a moment, nothing happened. The door was all the way open now, but no one was there. I stopped and waited. Maybe I blinked. I can’t be sure.

But when I looked again, the Bat Lady was there.

She could have been a hundred years old. Or maybe two hundred. I had no idea why they called her Bat Lady. She didn’t look like a bat. Her hair was gray and hippie long, hanging down to her waist. It blew in the wind, obscuring her face. She wore a torn white gown that resembled a bridal costume in an old horror movie or heavy-metal video. Her spine was bent like a question mark.

Slowly Bat Lady raised a hand so pale it was more vein-blue than white, and pointed a shaky, bony finger in my direction. I said nothing. She kept pointing until she was sure I was looking. When she saw that I was, Bat Lady’s wrinkled face spread into a smile that sent little icicles down my spine.


I had no idea how she knew my name.

“Your father isn’t dead,” Bat Lady said.

Her words sent a jolt that knocked me back a step.

“He is very much alive.”

But standing there, watching her vanish back into her decrepit cave, I knew what she was telling me wasn’t true.

Because I had seen my father die.

Okay, that was weird.

I stood in front of Bat Lady’s house and waited for her to come back out. No go. I walked over to her door and looked for a doorbell. There was none, so I started pounding on the door. It shook under the onslaught. The wood was so rough it scraped my knuckles like sandpaper. Paint chips fell off as if the door had a bad case of dandruff.

But the Bat Lady did not appear.

So now what? Kick down the door . . . and then what? Find an old lady in a weird white dress and demand she explain her whack-a-doodle rants? Maybe she had gone upstairs. Maybe Bat Lady was now getting ready for her loony day, changing out of her white dress, heading to the shower . . .


Time to go. I didn’t want to miss the first bell anyway. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Hill, was a stickler for punctuality. Plus I still hoped that Ashley would show up today. She had vanished into thin air. Maybe she would just reappear the same way.

I met Ashley three weeks ago at high school orientation for both new kids (Ashley and me, for example) and incoming freshmen, all of whom already knew one another because they went to middle school and elementary school together. No one ever seems to leave this town.

An orientation should consist of visiting your classes, getting a tour of the facilities, and maybe meeting a few classmates. But no, that’s not enough. We had to participate in these moronic, dehumanizing, and totally awkward “team building” exercises.

The first involved the “trust fall.” Ms. Owens, a PE teacher with a smile that looked like it’d been painted on by a drunk clown, started off by trying to fire us up.

“Good morning, everyone!”

A few groans.

Then—and I hate when adults do this—she shouted, “I know you’re more excited than that, so let’s try it again! Good morning, everyone!”

The students yelled “Good morning” louder this time, not because they were excited but because they wanted her to stop.

We were broken down into groups of six—mine featured three incoming freshmen and three upperclassmen who had just moved to town.

“One of you will stand on this pedestal and wear a blindfold!” Ms. Owens exclaimed. Everything she said ended in an exclamation mark. “You will cross your arms and now I want you to pretend that the pedestal is on fire! Oh no!” Ms. Owens put her hands on her cheeks like the kid in Home Alone. “It’s so hot that you’ll have to fall back!”

Someone raised his hand. “Why would we keep our arms crossed if the pedestal was on fire?”

Murmurs of agreement.

Ms. Owens’s painted-on smile didn’t change, but I thought I noticed a twitch in her right eye. “Your arms are tied!”

“They are? No, they’re not.”


“But if we pretend that, why do we need the blindfold? Can’t we just pretend not to see?”

“Or close our eyes?”

Ms. Owens fought for control. “The pedestal is so hot from the fire that you fall backward off of it.”


“Wouldn’t we jump, Ms. Owens?”

“Really. Why would we fall backward? I mean, if it’s that hot.”

Ms. Owens had enough. “Because I say so! You will fall backward! The rest of the group will catch you! Then you’ll switch places until everyone has a turn falling backward!”

We all did this, though some of us were hesitant. I’m six-four and weigh two hundred pounds. The group winced when they saw me. Another girl in my group, an incoming freshman dressed all in black, was on the fat side. I know I should call her something other than fat, something more politically correct, but I’m not sure what without sounding condescending. Large? Chubby? Heavy? I say those without judgment, the same way I might say small, bony, or skinny.

The big girl hesitated before she climbed onto the pedestal. Someone in our group laughed. Then someone else.

Other than to show this girl that cruelty will not stop when you enter high school, I had no idea how this exercise was supposed to help anyone.

When the girl didn’t fall back right away, one of the freshman boys snickered and said, “C’mon, Ema. We’ll catch you.”

It was not a voice that gave her confidence. She pulled down her blindfold and looked back at us. I met her eye and nodded. Finally she let herself fall. We caught her—some adding dramatic grunts—but Ema didn’t look any more trusting.

We then played some dumb paintball game where two people got hurt and then we moved into an exercise called—I wish I were kidding—“Poisoned Peanut Butter.” For this event, you had to cross over a ten-yard patch of Poisoned Peanut Butter but, as Ms. Owens explained, “Only two of you can wear the Anti-Poison shoes to get across at a time!”

In short, you had to carry other team members on your back. The small girls laughed with a tee-hee as they were carried. A photographer with the Star-Ledger newspaper was there, snapping away. The reporter asked a glowing Ms. Owens questions, her answers filled with words like bonding, welcoming, trusting. I couldn’t imagine what sort of story you’d do on something like this, but maybe they were desperate for “human interest” material.

I stood in the back of the Poisoned Peanut Butter line with Ema. Black mascara was running down her face with what might have been silent tears. I wondered if the photographer would get that.

As it came closer to Ema’s turn for teammates to carry her across the Poisoned Peanut Butter, I could actually feel her start to shake in fear.

Think about it.

It’s your first day at a new school and you’re a girl who weighs probably two hundred pounds and you’re forced to put on gym shorts and then, to complete some inane group task, your new smaller classmates have to lug you like a beer keg for ten yards while you just want to curl up in a ball and die.

Who thinks this is a good idea?

Ms. Owens came over to our team. “Ready, Emma?!”

Ema (with a long e) or Emma. I didn’t know what her name was now.

Emma/Ema said nothing.

“You go, girl! Right across the Poisoned Peanut Butter! You can do it!”

Then I said, “Ms. Owens?”

She turned her gaze on me. The smile never changed, but the eyes narrowed slightly. “And you are?”

“My name is Mickey Bolitar. I’m an incoming sophomore. And I’m going to sit out this exercise, if it’s okay.”

Again the flutter in Ms. Owens’s right eye. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah, I don’t really think I’m up for being carried.”

The other kids looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead.

“Mr. Bolitar, you’re new here.” The exclamation point was gone from Ms. Owens’s voice. “I would think you’d want to participate.”

“Is it mandatory?” I asked.

“Excuse me?”

“Is participating in this particular exercise mandatory?”

“Well, no, it’s not manda—”

“Then I’m sitting out.” I looked over at Ema/Emma. “Would you mind keeping me company?”

We walked away then. Behind me I could hear the world go silent. Then Ms. Owens blew a whistle, stopping the exercise and calling for lunch.

When we were a few more feet away, Ema/Emma said, “Wow.”


She looked me straight in the eye. “You saved the fat girl. I bet you’re really proud of yourself.”

Then she shook her head and walked away.

I looked behind me. Ms. Owens watched us. She still had the smile, but the glare in her eyes made it clear that I’d managed to make an enemy my first day.

The sun beat down upon me. I let it. I closed my eyes for a moment. I thought about my mother, who was coming home from rehab soon. I thought about my father, who was dead and buried.

I felt very much alone.

The school cafeteria was closed—school opening was still weeks away—so we all had to bring our own. I bought a buffalo chicken sub at Wilkes Deli and sat by myself on a grassy hill overlooking the football field. I was about to bite into it when I noticed her.

She wasn’t my type, though I really don’t have a type. I’ve spent my entire life traveling overseas. My parents worked for a charitable foundation in places like Laos and Peru and Sierra Leone. I don’t have any siblings. It was exciting and fun when I was a kid, but it got tiresome and difficult as I grew older. I wanted to stay in one place. I wanted to make some friends and play on one basketball team and, well, meet girls and do teenage stuff. It’s hard to do that when you’re backpacking in Nepal.

This girl was very pretty, sure, but she was also prim and proper and preppy. Something about her looked stuck-up, though I couldn’t say what. Her hair was the pale blond of a porcelain doll. She wore an actual, well, skirt, not one of those short-short ones, and what might have been bobby socks, and looked as though she’d just walked out of my grandparents’ Brooks Brothers catalog.

I took a bite of my sandwich and then I noticed that she didn’t have a lunch. Maybe she was on some kind of weird diet, but for some reason I didn’t think so.

I don’t know why, but I decided to walk over to her. I wasn’t much in the mood to talk or to meet anyone. I was still reeling from all the new people in my life and really didn’t want to add any more.

Maybe it was just because she was so pretty. Maybe I’m just as shallow as the next guy. Or maybe it was because the lonely can sometimes sense the lonely. Maybe what drew me to her was the fact that, like me, she seemed to want to keep to herself.

I approached tentatively. When I got close enough, I gave a half wave and said, “Hi.”

I always open with super-smooth lines like this.

She looked up at me and shaded eyes the green of emeralds. “Hi.”

Yep, very pretty.

I stood there, feeling awkward. My face reddened. My hands suddenly felt too big for my body. The second thing I said to her was, “My name is Mickey.”

Man, am I smooth or what? Every line is killer.

“I’m Ashley Kent.”

“Cool,” I said.


Somewhere in this world—in China or India or a remote section of Africa—there was probably a bigger dork than me. But I couldn’t swear to that.

I pointed at her empty lap. “Did you bring lunch?”

“No, I forgot.”

“This sandwich is huge,” I said. “Do you want half?”

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

But I insisted and then she invited me to join her. Ashley was also a sophomore and also new in town. Her father, she said, was a renowned surgeon. Her mother was a lawyer.

If life were a movie, this was the part where you’d start the music montage. Some sappy song would be playing while they flashed to Ashley and me sharing lunch, talking, laughing, looking coy, holding hands—and ending with that first chaste kiss.

That was three weeks ago.

I made it into Mr. Hill’s class just as the bell sounded. He took roll call. The bell pealed again, and it was time for first period. Ashley’s homeroom was across the hall. I waited and saw that yet again she wasn’t here.

I described Ashley before as my girlfriend. That might have been an exaggeration. We were taking it slow, I guess. We’d kissed twice—no more. I didn’t really like anyone else at my new school. I liked her. It wasn’t love. But it was also early. On the other hand, feelings like this usually diminish. That’s the truth. We like to pretend that they grow as we get closer to our new partner. But most times, it’s the opposite. We guys see that gorgeous girl and we get this big-time crush, one that makes it hard to breathe and makes us so anxious, want it so bad, that we always blow it.

If we do somehow land her, the feelings begin to diminish almost immediately. In this case, my feelings for Ashley really did grow. That was a little scary in a good way.

Then one day I came to school and Ashley was absent. I tried her cell phone, but there was no answer. She was gone the next day too. Then the next. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have her home address. I checked the name Kent online, but they must have been unlisted. In fact, there was nothing about her online at all.

Ashley had simply vanished into thin air.

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