Monday, May 3, 2010

Acceleration, by Graham McNamee.

Acceleration, by Graham McNamee. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2003. ISBN-10: 0385731191; ISBN-13: 978-0385731195. 210 p.

Plot Summary
Duncan is spending his summer working in the Dungeon--the Lost and Found of the Toronto Transit Authority. It's a boring job, and he hates being stuck in the dark basement during the sunny summer. Most of the things in the lost and found are pretty basic: wallets, glasses, sports equipment. But one day, he finds a strange diary filled with accounts of animal abuse and arson, and angry rants against women and the daily schedules of three women he's been stalking. Has he already killed one of them? As Duncan learns more from the diary, he becomes determined to find the serial killer before he claims another victim. 

Critical Evaluation
An inherent danger in mystery novels with teen protagonists is the believability of a teen solving a crime without the help of an adult, especially in a world where police and other authority figures blow off teenagers as immature and incapable. If a teen, like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, is able to solve crimes on his or her own with a minimum of problems, the reader's credibility can be strained. McNamee manages to dodge this bullet, and creates a believable scenario where Duncan can solve the mystery of the serial killer's identity on his own, with his only help coming from his two best friends. Although it would be nice if the story and characters could be fleshed out more than they are, Duncan is a relatable hero who must face his insecurities and fears if he is to succeed.

Reader’s Annotation
As he works in the Toronto Transit Authority's lost and found, Duncan finds the lost diary of a serial killer. Can Duncan solve the mystery of the killer's identity before anyone else gets hurt?

Author Information
McNamee describes himself as "Male. Caucasian. 5'10". Brown hair. Brown eyes. Do not approach. Extremely shy. Author of: Hate You, Nothing Wrong with a Three-Legged Dog, Sparks, and Acceleration. Hate You was an ALA Best Book for young Adults and an ALA Quick Pick, won the Austrian Children's Book Award, and was nominated for the Governor General's Award. Sparks won the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship" (from book jacket).  McNamee doesn't have much of a web presence, and it's difficult to find information about him. However, he does share a name with a pioneering broadcaster

When asked if writing this book made him feel differently about the subway, McNamee answered, "my buds and I used to hang out in the subway when we were young and bored. We’d do dumb stuff, like run from one platform across the tracks to the other side. We didn’t know about the third rail back then, the one that carries the electrical current and will fry you to ashes if you touch it. And we’d dare each other to run down the tunnel to the next station. (Don’t try this at home, unless you want to get flattened into an idiot pancake.) Years later, when I was working downtown, I had to ride the subway during rush hour. Packed so tight you couldn’t move, me and the rest of the workforce drones would wait on the platform for the next train. A lot of times I’d be standing at the front, my toes inches from the edge, and I’d think how easy it would be for someone to just give me a little shove, nothing conspicuous, and push me over the edge. Staring across at the platform on the other side, I tried to figure if I could squeeze in that little space under the edge. And every time, as the train rushed in, I’d feel a tiny tug of vertigo, like I was starting to fall. But I never did feel that hand on my back, pushing me over. And I never found out if I’d fit under the edge" (source). McNamee manages to make this concern a very real prospect in Acceleration.


Curriculum Ties
Psychology: serial killers and sociopaths

Booktalking Ideas
-Read the passage where Duncan first finds the diary and realizes what it is (p. 32).
-"What would you do if you had to solve a crime on your own without the help of the police?"

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 7-12 (taken from the Booktalking Colorado website)

Challenge Issues
-The glorification of criminal activities as they're used to help solve the mystery
-Descriptions of the serial killer's actions and his sick mind

I included this book because YALSA includes it on their Ultimate Teen Bookshelf as a great mystery novel, a genre which is definitely underrepresented on this blog.


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