The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

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Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN 9781619633506
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Themes: Friendship; Mystery; Adventure; Communism - fiction. Hazel Kaplansky lives during the period post-WWII in the United States when the fear of communism could divide communities, with lies, rumour and innuendo used as weapons that could harm relationships and reputations. Hazel is a self-proclaimed, relentlessly focused spy-catcher who uses small hints, clues and fabrication to create a portfolio of evidence against potential spies. She is influenced by the Trixie Belden model of solving mysteries. She is also on the idiosyncratic end of the personality scale - her initial poor self-awareness and her attempts to impress with her higher order thinking create a humorous and peculiar view of life. Her parents run a Cemetery, with particular emphasis on the horticultural enhancements to the grounds. The combination of her natural curiosity and her lack of friends creates an environment where things get out of hand. She is the target of the mean girls at school and finds the new boy, Samuel (who joins her in their sights), as a worthy companion in her attempts to find hidden secrets that extend into the past. Samuel's own story is full of them! Hazel's misadventures eventually lead her to greater awareness of the complexities of life. There are many wonderfully humourous scenes in this book - her relegation to the triangle in school music lessons, and her relationships with her parents and other adults are often quite quirky.
I can recommend this book for readers aged 8+, but I suspect the references to Communism as a threat will go over the heads of younger readers in Australia. They should still enjoy Hazel's misguided view of her circumstances, and her attempts at solving problems.
Carolyn Hull