At the reading of their grandmother Grace’s will, orphans Amy and Dan learn an astonishing truth about their family, the Cahills. According to Grace’s executor, nearly every important figure in history, from Lewis and Clark to Abraham Lincoln to Harry Houdini, has been a member of the Cahill family. In her will, Grace invites forty family members to make a difficult choice: receive one clue and embark on a quest around the world to discover the source of the Cahill’s power, or take $1 million dollars and go home. Faced with the prospect of having their earnings stolen by their cruel Aunt Beatrice, Amy and Dan (and six other teams) decide to take the challenge.
With the help of their au pair, Nellie, the two start out on a quest that leads them across continents and into multiple scrapes with death. The result is a fast-paced mystery/adventure sure to titillate middle grade imaginations.
Incidentally, I attended a SCBWI conference today in OKC where one member brought up this book and immediately dismissed it as a sad ploy on the part of Scholastic to regain some of its Harry Potter earnings. He criticized the fact that (according to him) action figures and other merchandise had been made for the book before it was even written. I agree with him on one thing: 39 Clues is clearly a marketing ploy. However, I don’t agree that this immediately extinguishes the series’ value. The multiplatform approach (the book, cards and online game) is a great way to get reluctant readers into books. And more than that, it’s fun! I’ve been online playing 39 Clues since the book came out (and, yes, I’ve also bought the trading cards).
It comes down to a question of quality. No amount of marketing gimmicks will ever be able to save a poor quality product. It will be up to readers to decide whether or not 39 Clues is worth the hype. I, for one, think the quality of Riordan’s writing saves this book from the gimmick graveyard, and I will definitely check out book two in the series, One False Note by Gordon Korman.