Susan Jones feels like the most average ten-year-old ever, especially next to her globally famous marine biologist parents. The one thing Susan can claim as her own is Madame X, her detective alter-ego who can crack any schoolyard case. When Susan wakes up one morning to find her parents missing without a trace, she knows Madame X is about to face her toughest case yet—one that takes her to a secret town beneath her city’s sewers with eerie parallels to the world above. The strange new town is populated by Thingamabobs (Bobs for short), green goblin-esque creatures who have a penchant for petty theft and preventing accidents. As Susan, her best friend Johnny, and his little brother Teddy race against the clock to save her parents, they’ll need to use all their sleuthing tricks to figure out what’s really happening to the creeks in the world beneath.
Author Eileen Conway creates a multilayered protagonist in Susan, who is both precocious and unsure of herself as she navigates the case. Susan constantly takes on the personas of famous detectives, scientists, and explorers when she isn’t sure what to do next, and she frequently uses her past memories or experiences to solve current problems. At its core, MADAME X AND THE WORLD BENEATH is a story about finding your individual strengths within a team. Susan, Johnny, and Teddy all struggle with feeling useless at times; it isn’t until their final adventure that each begins to recognize what makes them valuable to the group. And of course, their strong bonds of friendship and willingness to stick together—even when facing possible death—are the most valuable elements of all.
Conway also includes adults in a way that many books for young readers do not. While Susan’s parents are gone for most of the book, she uses lessons they taught her to crack the case. Johnny and Teddy’s mother is a constant, caring presence—even if she can be a bit smothering—and the kids turn to trusted adults several times for more information on the Bobs. Although several of the plot developments seem a bit out of left field, especially regarding the Bobs’ true purpose, Conway keeps the plot moving so quickly that readers may not even notice a few missteps here and there. Overall, MADAME X is sure to join the ranks of kids’ favorite spunky detectives, like Nancy Drew and Cam Jansen.
Meaningful humor and spunky characters combine to create a classic adventure story with environmentally conscious undertones in Eileen Conway’s MADAME X AND THE WORLD BENEATH.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader