By Ekta R. Garg
May 7, 2014
Rated: Borrow it
A teenager gets accused of stealing a koala from a zoo and must use his wits and his knowledge to help him out of the mess. When a class bully and a zoo security officer make life more difficult for him and hamper his efforts, he realizes he doesn’t have much time to find the real thief and prove his innocence. Stuart Gibbs offers middle grade readers this premise in the somewhat enjoyable but often painfully didactic book Poached.
Teddy Fitzroy lives at the zoo. Well, not exactly at the zoo, called FunJungle, but close enough. Both of his parents work there, and he gets access to areas of the zoo that most of his friends don’t. So when the class bully orders him to pull a prank by dropping fake arms and feet into the shark tank, Teddy can’t exactly find a good reason to say no.
Despite an elaborate plan to pull off the prank (and satisfy the bully and his cronies) but not get caught, things don’t work out the way Teddy envisioned. He finds himself fleeing the scene of the “crime” and looking for a place to hide. When he slips into the koala exhibit, he thinks his troubles have abated. But he doesn’t know that the real trouble hasn’t even started yet.
Kazoo the Koala, on loan from the Australian government, goes missing the next day, and Teddy becomes the prime suspect. For some people at the zoo, he’s the only suspect. Teddy realizes that he’ll have to work fast to solve the crime on his own if he wants to avoid juvenile detention.
Author Stuart Gibbs brings back characters from his first book, Belly Up, to share with readers a new zoo mystery adventure and to introduce new adventures for Teddy and his friends and family. Readers who didn’t read Belly Up don’t need to worry; Gibbs gives enough details about the mystery in that book to keep readers in the loop. Because readers get to know Teddy through the first person point of view, it’s easy to see what facts from the previous adventure inform his decisions in this book.
The trouble comes in sharing all those details. Readers get several info dumps, and the info dumps become slightly tedious after a while. Also, Gibbs uses the book as a platform to reinforce positive traits—among them, be honest with your parents when you’re in trouble, and don’t give up when you know the truth. The reinforcement starts to sound like a broken record, however. Gibbs tells, not shows, many of these concepts and does it often. Smart readers may roll their eyes more than once at the friendly lecturing.
He does build a solid mystery, however, and he keeps readers guessing to the end. I recommend Poached for its target audience and for adult readers who don’t mind being patient with redundant prose.