Picturesque Calendula is a tourist town tucked into the California coast, a dreamy kind of place that keeps its secrets buried. So when a schoolyard rumor begins to circulate about a “Ghost Girl” who disappeared in Ward Forest, a popular spot for kids of all ages, it ignites a whirlwind race for the truth. Following a trail of clues, the Mysterious Adventures Society—a group of “uncool” fifth graders waiting for the rush of summer vacation—launches a mission to find her. But they aren’t alone: their bullies, aided by a slimy, scheming adult, are on the hunt for Ghost Girl and the odd porcelain figure she had in her possession the night she vanished. The adventure that unfolds might be the biggest in the Society’s history yet, though it also might be a lot more than they bargained for.
With its early nineties setting, CALENDULA COOL evokes the feel-good nostalgia of paperback young adult and middle grade classic series like The Babysitters Club. Cozy and laidback, Calendula comes alive throughout the novel—from its hazy coastal sunsets, deep forest dotted with the rusting frames of old cars, to its stately mansion homes and touristy boardwalks. That expectant childhood thrill of summer freedom, of possibilities, of adventures, is a constant presence. Scraped knees, street fights, daring bike chases through the woods at night—the Mysterious Adventures Society dives full-tilt into their mission. Their rambunctious personalities mix well together, promising future hijinks in other installments. Each of them has their own strengths, faults, and sense of humor, which brings a lot of heart to the story. Most importantly, the novel never undermines them; they’re kids with typical problems kids have to deal with, but they’re also resourceful, intelligent, and highly observant.
While CALENDULA COOL teaches lessons about friendship, making difficult choices, empathy, and looking beyond first impressions, it doesn’t shy away from more nuanced topics. Issues of parental neglect, wealth inequality, and adult callousness toward children are touched upon with an approach that’s age-appropriate. And without giving away spoilers, there’s a couple of extremely satisfying redemption arcs to top it off. Every issue ties into the greater narrative seamlessly, leaving room for the mystery that unfolds. It has a quirky charm to it, with the added drama of high-stakes action to balance it all out.
A perfect summer read for all ages, Steve McManus’ CALENDULA COOL is a feel-good, nostalgic story bursting with action, loveable characters, and a page-turning mystery.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader