One of my favorite sub-genres is “Follow-the-Clues” books (at least, I’ve dubbed it this because I don’t know the official title). The plot of these books is heavily supported by clues that are either sent to the protagonist or that they discover on their own. Characters might need to go on a winding road trip, break out their metal detector, solve anagrams, comb through old newspapers, read forgotten diaries—oh my heart quickens just thinking about all of the delicious plot possibilities! I’m interested in this genre because my newest WIP (“work-in-progress”; when I first saw someone use that acronym, I had to google it so I figure I better clarify!) is a Follow-the-Clues book.
Here are my thoughts on some Follow-the-Clues books I’ve read in the past or as research for my WIP.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book is narrated beautifully by three characters, but the protagonist is Oskar, an 8 year old boy whose father died on September 11. Oskar finds a key inside a vase his father bought, and goes on a quest to find the lock that fits this key. The results of Oskar’s quest are heartbreaking and wonderful. I love that this book is adult literary fiction, but takes full advantage of the Follow-the-Clue format. Foer’s other novel, Everything is Illuminated, could also fit in this genre. I love his books because he’s incredibly ambitious, has fun with form, and bravely risks accusations of pretension and naiveté to tell a heartfelt story. Though both of his novels are found in the adult section in the bookstore, they’re great picks for teens (I read Everything is Illuminated when I was 15 and it was probably the most important book of my teenage years).
Paper Towns by John Green
We all love John Green for his skills as a vlogger, but let us not forget that John’s also an incredibly talented novelist. Paper Towns, the first book of his I read, tells the story of Quentin, a high school senior who, one night, is surprised by the sudden reappearance of childhood friend Margo. The next day, Margo disappears and Quentin vows to find her. This book is both a literal quest (Quentin and his friends go on a road trip in search of Margo, always one step behind her) and a quest to understand Margo’s character. There is a scene in this book early on, in which 8 year old Quentin and Margo discover a dead body in the park, that amazed me so much I was staggered. I felt I had an entirely new understanding of the potential of YA as a genre.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
This book was an utter delight. Petra and Calder are sixth graders in Chicago when a thief steals the Vermeer painting, A Lady Writing, and publishes a public letter in the newspaper. Petra and Calder, both incredibly inquisitive, nice, and intelligent kids, take it on themselves to discover the location of the missing painting. The plot moved along quickly, the quirky characters were well-developed, and I really cared about these kids and rooted for them on their quest. There are two other books in this series, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game—I’ve already got them from the library and will be reading them soon!
King Dork by Frank Portman
I read this book as research because, based on the description, I thought the plot would be quite similar to my WIP. Self-titled "King Dork" Tom finds an old copy of The Catcher in the Rye that belonged to his father; inside are strange codes and notes which Tom attempts to decode. I didn’t love this book, mostly because the fantastic potential of the mystery got shelved throughout the novel in favor of things that didn’t hold my interest as much (lots of internal dialogue, high school exploits, drama within Tom's band). I also wasn’t a fan of the uncertain, vague way the mystery was resolved at the end of the book. But, every research book offers something to learn and I know still learned quite a bit from King Dork.
Do you know of any Follow-the-Clues books that I’ve missed?