10-year old Pia narrates this contemporary gothic tale that blends middle school angst, childish gullibility, and real-life mystery in a totally believable way. Set in the German village of Bad Münstereifel, the story has a Brothers Grimm-like air that draws one in as Pia’s adventures unfold. Ostracized due to an incident regarding her grandmother, Pia’s only friend is another outsider referred to as Stink-Stefan. The two are bright but still young enough to be unsure about fact vs. fable in village lore. All they know for certain is that Katharina Linden vanished earlier after a village parade and now another girl has, too. As this Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy team uncovers more disappearances and learns village history (both truth and fable) from Herr Schiller, the tale becomes more threatening. Pia and Stefan’s youth and innocence make what is every parent’s nightmare of kidnapping and murder an intriguing mystery to be unraveled.
The characters are believable and even the village has personality. Though told by a child, this is not a story for children. It has mystery, off-screen violence, folklore, and one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time: “My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.”