Titles: The Name of this Book Is Secret; If You're Reading this, It's too Late; This Book Is not Good for You; This Isn't what It Looks Like; You Have to Stop This
Author: Pseudonymous Bosch (Raphael Simon)
Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations
Better than Lemony Snicket, a good alternative in fact, this series offers middle readers the mystery, adventure and word puzzles they crave. The vocabulary is challenging and the humor is generally appropriate. The plots are somewhat unbelievable, but not as dark and violent as Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.
11 year old "survivalist" Cassandra and her humorously neurotic friend Max-Ernest must decode clues and thwart the evil plans of Ms. Mauvais and Dr. L. as they search for an ancient Egyptian secret to eternal life.
The villains are sinister and at one point prepared to perform an Egyptian mummification ritual on a schoolmate when Cass and Max-Ernest arrive on the scene. Families might also object to Max-Ernest's selfish, divorcing parents, but Cass has real family support and legitimate adult help, unlike the Lemony Snicket series.
Parents may take issue with slang words ("butt," "puke," "suck," "freakin'") in the second book, but I would counter that they are rare (about once each) and occur in reasonable context (for the most part as description and not personal insults).
Even as I re-read that paragraph I realize it must sound contrary to some of our stated goals. Let me clarify that one character in particular (Yo Yoji) brings this flavor to the friendships and I find it valuable that he is welcomed and included. His rougher language has little or no influence on the other characters. And, as always, context must be considered before judgments are passed.
Other objectionable content includes "white" lies by the main characters (about once per book, in order for Cass to follow mystery leads) and the references to Egyptian practices and alchemy. To be fair, such scenes occur infrequently and the protagonists are not caught up in any occult practices themselves, only opposing the antagonists. The protagonists also form positive friendships and exemplify teamwork.
In short, while not perfect, the series is acceptable for many middle readers. If you really want to bond with your child over these books (always a good way to strengthen a relationship), be sure to make Cass's Super Chip Snack Mix with them!