As in any proper noir, the story is marked by twists and turns, and the writing is cynical and tough, riddled with the sort of hard-boiled jargon you expect from a B movie…much of the thrill of this noveland it is entertaining and thrillingcomes from its vision of a world in which kids play all the adult roles: they run the mobs, write the articles, chase the killers, haunt the (kid-owned) saloons, punish the (kid-committed) crimes. It's a kiddy cocktail kind of place, reminiscent, if anyone other than me remembers, of the Scott Baio vehicle "Bugsy Malone," in which the kid gangsters were blasted with machine guns that shot globs of whipped cream.
The New York Times
The seventh-grader version of a Raymond Chandler PI, Matt Stevens coolly navigates the mean streets (okay, the mean hallways) of Franklin Middle School in a first novel with an ingenious premise: junior high noir. Matt's classmate, the once-bullied Vinny Biggio, commands a whole "organization," complete with hit men, in this case boys and girls who use loaded squirt guns, stealth attacks and their peers' predictable responses (choruses of "Jimmy peed his pants!") to ensure their targets' permanent and total ostracism. The plot has to do with the spectacular takedown of one Nicole Finnegan, aka Nikki Fingers, the school's most feared "trigger-girl," that is, until her recent retirement from Vinny's operation. Just who ordered the hit on Nikki, and why? Twists and curve balls keep readers guessing; extended jokes like one about a petty thief's desperate need for cash ("On the surface, Peter was a happy-go-lucky model student, but underneath, he had a dirty little secret: He was a Pixy Stixer") will keep them laughing. With crisp prose and surprisingly poignant moments, Ferraiolo's debut entertains on many levels. Ages 10-14. (Sept.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Let me clue you into something, kid…Justice is a snack," I said. "You get justice, and five minutes later you realize you're still hungry. Revenge, on the other hand, is a full meal." We are talking about middle school social relationships here. Matt is a detective, hired to solve mysteries. The power is in the hands of Vincent "Vinny Biggs" Bigglo; the victim is Nikki Fingers, and it is Matt's assignment to find out who took down Nikki. With a squirt gun. In middle school. This is Ferraiolo's first novel for YAs, and he has developed and written the TV show WordGirl for PBS. He's great at moving the action along and providing comic book characterizations and humor. Each character is more devious and intelligent than most of us, regardless of age. The resolution of the story is a shocker that makes sense but comes out of nowhereFerraiolo has taken us down, in a matter of speaking. Good fun, and the comic-book style cover will attract readers. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
This fabulous mystery will have teens laughing and racing to get to the last page. Matt Stevens is a seventh grade private eye with no shortage of incidents to investigate at Franklin Middle School. When the school's star prankster, Nicole "Nikki Fingers" Finnegan, is foiled by her own prank of squirting people with cat pee, the school is in shock. Matt is hired by Vincent "Vinny Biggs" Biggio to track down the culprit responsible for putting Nikki on "The Outs." The suspects are endless because everyone has a reason to hate Nikki; however, Matt finds himself hitting dead ends and wonders if he is being used. Readers will enjoy this funny mystery, written in the spirit of classic noir detective novels of the 1930s and 1940s. Everyone has a catchy nickname, and the witty banter is endless. The editor of the school newspaper is Matt's go-to person for leads. Readers will love Matt, a hard-working teen with a good heart who wants more than anything to make some extra money to help out his mom. His father disappeared mysteriously when he was five, leaving only a puzzling code as a clue, adding a dark element to the story that leads to an exciting conclusion. Some elements of the plot are unbelievable. Despite these-a lack of adult involvement and the complete trust that Matt's mother places in him-it is a great whodunit that mystery lovers are sure to consume. Some mild profanity might make it inappropriate for sixth graders. Reviewer: Victoria Vogel
Matt Stevens is a seventh-grade Sam Spade who attends a middle school with an organized crime ring run by Vinny Biggs and his goons. Biggs traffics in forgeries, stolen exams, and candy, and has his competition regularly put in the "Outs" with humiliating water-pistol stains to the pants. A kid in the Outs is outcast for life-so when Nikki Fingers, Biggs's most-feared former hit woman, is taken down by an unseen assailant, Matt is hired by both her sister, Jenny, and Biggs himself to find the culprit. The result is a punchy, clue- and twist-filled plot that falls somewhere between Bruce Hale's "Chet Gecko" (Harcourt) and Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (Knopf, 1974). Ferraiolo cleverly adapts hard-boiled whodunit roles to a slightly cartoonish middle school arena (Joey "the Hyena" is framed for the crime; Katie Kondo is the vigilant hall monitor chief; Jimmy Mac heads the school paper; Sal Becker runs a root-beer version of a dive bar in his toolshed). Matt's strained relationship with Kevin, a former best friend who's now working for Biggs, brings depth to his character, as do his crushes on both Jenny and Kevin's sister. An intriguing personal mystery involving Matt's father, who disappeared years earlier, remains unsolved by the end of the book, and Matt's mother has secrets yet to tell. Well paced, funny, and suspenseful, with some real commentary on bullying and mob mentality, this book will have fans eagerly awaiting the next installment in this faux noir detective series.-Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA
Welcome to Franklin Middle School, where a junior gang of petty thieves and mobsters shakes kids down and humiliates them with water guns. Seventh-grader Matt Stevens, the class detective, is hired by fellow middle-schooler Vinny Biggs (something of a pint-sized Godfather) to recover a lost trinket from Nikki "Fingers," one of the fastest shots in school. Nikki has decided to go straight because her younger sister has entered the school. This knock-off noir kicks in when Nikki, about to hand over the charm to Matt, is "taken out"-soaked in a place to make it look like she's had an accident. This humiliation, a highly visible and common practice, immediately turns victims into social outcasts. Matt's detective instincts tell him that Vinny may have set him up, and he sets out to learn who was really behind this act. Matt Stevens may turn out to be a bankable franchise: His first-person present-tense narration carries in it echoes of Marlowe, and the simple plot makes some crafty twists and turns as it goes along. (Fiction. 9-11)