Monday, October 12, 2009

Sports, Adventure & Mystery: Vanishing Act

Bibliographic Data
Feinstein, John. Vanishing Act. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN 97806375835926.

Plot Summary
Middle schoolers Stevie and Susan Carroll attend the US Open Grand Slam Tennis tournament as junior reporters. Media darling Nadia Symanova is the favorite to win, but on the way to her first match she disappears, the victim of a kidnapping. Who kidnapped her and what do they want? Stevie and Susan Carroll decide to find out, but then they find themselves in danger also. Who are the good guys and who are the badf guys?

Critical Analysis
First of all, I didn't like this book. I'm into neither tennis nor sportscasting, so this book's tournament action left me wondering when the game would be over and Feinstein would get back to 'the real action.' I agree totally with the remark Karen Leggett made in her reiew, "The story is slow to take off and often includes enough extraneous detail to read like a play-by-play account." The constant stream of names that I felt like I should recognize but didn't also left me frustrated, which is just what another reviewer, Elizabeth Bush, was talking about when she mentioned how "Feinstein continues to have a ball name-dropping, stirring real-life sports journalists and personalities into the fictional broth..." However, if your young adult IS into that sort of thing, this book will hold their iterest. The plot seems predictable, but just when you've resigned yourself to 'knowing' what will happen next, Feinstein throws in a plot twist, and more than once.

There are some funny running gags that most teens will relate to, such as every time Stevie tries to check in with his press credentials, the security guards can't believe that somebody as young as he is could possibly have valid credentials. Meanwhile, Susan Carroll, who looks mature for her age, gets in with no questions asked. How many teens do you know who can realte to that kinid of frustration?

The setting was unrealistic - I don't know too many parents who would send their 13 year old son from Pennsylvania to New York City for a whole week with only $250, and to stay with strangers. However, this would also appeal to teens who long for their own independence.

The story is told in a limited omniscient point-of-view. We are privy to Stevie's thoughts, and so we see the other characters through his perspective. Foir this reason we see almost no characterization of some of the newscasters mentioned since Stevie isn't very concerned with them in this story. However, we see lots of characterization of Susan Carroll and the tennis players in the tournament. Especially interesting is how Stevie's perception of Nadia Symanova changes. Stevies moves from "Stevie did not have a cursh on Symanova. That would have implied that he knew her or might somehow have a chance someday to even meet her" (4), to "It occured to him that he no longer even thought about Nadia Symanova that way. She was involved n soemthing dirty--or at least her family was--and there was no way for Stevie to see her as attractive anymore" (187).

The presence of certain adults in the plot also makes this book unrealistic. These adults either mysteriously appear and just as quickly disappearm, never to be seen again; or act so contrary to what another adult would do in this situation that it's hard to take these scenes seriously. For example, in Chapter 12, a USTA official named Mark Preston appears just long enough to get family credentials for Stevie and Susan Carroll to use to get into places where media is not allowed but family members are, then disappears, never to show up again. Huh? Who was that maked man? And after Stevie gets beaten up in the subway by two thugs who tell him not try to find out anything more about Nadia Symanove, the doctor who treats Stevie completely disregards the fact that Stevie is a minor and his parents legally have to give permission for him to treat Stevie. Every doctor knows this cold quite possibly result in the doctor's license being revoked. And yet, a doctor who routinely deals with minors in the tennis world doesn't know this?

According to Nilsen & Donelson, young adult mystery readers are expected to "suspend most of our disbelief" (200). Taken all together, these shorcomings were too great for me to enjoy this book. However, a young adult who enjoys mysteries or stories about sports might be willing to suspend disbelief and aactually enjoy the book.

Awards and Honors
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2007; Bank Street College of Education; United States.
Book Sense Children's Picks, Fall 2006; American Booksellers Association; United States.
Children's Choices, 2007; International Reading Association; United States.
Children's Pick of the List, 2006; NAIBA; United States.
Core Collection: Sports Fiction for Girls, 2007; Booklist; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to Ninth Edition, 2007; H.W. Wilson Company; United States.

Review Excerpts
Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Sep. 1, 2006 (Vol. 103, No. 1))
Although too many logistical details slow the pace, sports fans will be fascinated by the insider's view of the tournament, and even teens ambivalent about sports will connect with the memorable, high-achieving kids and the messages about maintaining integrity versus selling out--in sports and in life.

Karen Leggett (Children's Literature, n.d.)
John Feinstein tells a very good story....The story is slow to take off and often includes enough extraneous detail to read like a play-by-play account, but this title will still be a good choice for readers who thrive on tennis, novels of suspense, or dreams of being a great sportswriter.

Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2006 (Vol. 60, No. 2))
Feinstein continues to have a ball name-dropping, stirring real-life sports journalists and personalities into the fictional broth, and even recruiting a pair of characters from his adult mystery Winter Games to serve as the kids’ New York guardians and journalist mentors during the Open. With only two sports down and so many more to go, readers can expect Stevie, Susan Carol, and their laptops to be back in the news soon.

Book Hook
Pair this book with John Feinstein's other books about teen reporter/sleuths Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson: Last Shot: A Final four Mystery (2005), Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl (2007), and Change-Up: Mystery at the World Series (2009).

Online Connections
Teen Ink, a magazine, website and books written by teens since 1989. The nonfiction sports section of their website can be found here.

Nilsen, A.P. and Donelson, K.L. Literature for Today's Young Adults Eighth Edition. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2009.

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