A Bone-Chilling Middle-Grade/Young-Adult Mystery: Defender by Graham McNamee

BookendsCindy: Girlzilla, Bigfoot, Titanic, Tiny . . . call Tyne Greer whatever you want, but she’s going to stop you on the basketball court—and maybe off the court, too. Six feet six inches of powerhouse defense, she’s currently in rehab for a knee injury that may jeopardize her college recruitment chances.

Graham McNamee’s DefenderDefender (2016) gets off to a wild start as Tyne finds the mummified body of a young woman in a defunct incinerator chute in the basement of the urban apartment building where her family lives and her father works as the building superintendent. When she reports the body to him, he goes alone to the basement and eventually returns to tell her he found nothing. He tries to convince Tyne that she just imagined it, but she knows what she saw was real—and now she knows her dad is lying to her. Why? Tyne and her boyfriend, Stick, search the basement again and the creepy scene on page 36 provides the seed of a booktalk: They find a single gray finger with a skull-shaped scar accompanied by a few letters.

Display it face-out and it will disappear
as fast as an incriminating dead body.

McNamee is known for his scary mysteries, including one of my go-to booktalks, Acceleration (2003), and Defender is another slam-dunk for him and his fans. Its short chapters and elements of basketball, family secrets, a struggling neighborhood, and a missing-body mystery will engage reluctant teen readers. There is a mature relationship between Tyne and her boyfriend, but that action remains offstage, making this a middle-school/high-school crossover title. The cover art is so awesome that you probably won’t have to sell this one. Just display it face-out and it will disappear as fast as an incriminating dead body. (Sometimes I slay myself.)

Mystery MonthLynn: Cindy is right about the appeal of this mystery! Prepare for a waiting list on this as the kids are going to talk among themselves and you won’t have to booktalk it more than once. Tyne and Stick are engaging protagonists, and I also liked that McNamee included some really supportive adults in their families—not all of them biological families, but families just the same. For those seeking diverse characters, Stick is multiracial, and there are other people of color included seamlessly in the story.

Make no mistake: there are some seriously creepy people in the book, and sometimes it is hard to tell which ones are the good guys and vice versa because there are some interesting moral dilemmas involved. I think the teens are going to be talking about those choices a lot. McNamee has written some nightmare-inducing thrillers in the past and Defender will definitely keep a lot of teens reading late into the night to find out what happens!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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