‘Connect the Dots’ by Keith Calabrese is a wonderful middle grade novel

Connect the Dots by Keith Calabrese

Want to get your child a fabulous novel to read over the summer that’s filled with relatable characters, a genius who has disappeared, and a mystery that is solved by three intrepid children? “Connect the Dots” is Keith Calabrese’s second novel, and it’s filled with the same wonderful messages that his first book, “A Drop of Hope,” was. This one—dare I say it—is even better.

Who wouldn’t love a character who wants to give his best friend a perfect day? When we first meet Preston Oglethorpe, he’s a kid trying to give Floss, one of his best friends, a perfect day. And he almost manages it. When something unexpected ruins it (to his thinking), he can’t deal with it. We learn that Preston has a delicate ego.

Fast forward twenty-five years and we meet three new kids. Frankie and Oliver are best friends, and when the new girl, Matilda, decides to befriend them, they are drawn into a mystery that, not coincidentally, involves them all. Because Preston Oglethorpe, who masterminded the perfect day, just might be at it again. But what is his ultimate goal?

When coincidences begin causing things to happen, and people keep saying, “Imagine the odds,” the kids become more determined to solve the mystery of where Preston is. Thanks to Matilda, whose father is an FBI agent (unbeknownst to Frankie and Oliver) and who fancies herself something of a sleuth (get it? Matilda…), they are able to do that. But when the three bad guys, including the duo of Gilbert and Sullivan, are also determined to get Preston, the kids find themselves in danger.

There’s plenty of action—enough to keep those pages turning—and plenty of sage wisdom from the author. When Floss, Oliver’s mom, feels burned by the conman who tricked her, she almost doesn’t help an old man who needs assistance. But she thinks of Oliver, who had started to become suspicious of the world around him after his father dumped them for a young fitness instructor and moved across the country, and “even though those eyes couldn’t see her now, Floss wanted to show him that who we are is the sum of the tiny, random choices we make every day. It all adds up.” And when Preston literally takes a bullet for someone, Matilda points out that…”The smartest man in the world did the dumbest thing he could possibly do. Because when you love someone it doesn’t matter how smart you are. You’re always going to wind up thinking with your heart.”

Calabrese also uses metaphor to really paint a picture for young readers. “Jojo’s Bar and Grill was not much to look at. A glorified shack with the structural integrity of a child’s pillow fort…” Inside, “it was dark and there were germs on the floor that were probably old enough to vote. The filth wasn’t in or on Jojo’s, the filth was Jojo’s. It was probably the only thing keeping the whole place together.”

The messages about loyalty to friends and family, decisions from the heart trumping planning from the brain, and the butterfly effect of random events that accumulate to cause a domino effect will resonate with readers of all ages. Teachers, librarians, parents, be prepared to recommend this gripping read to the middle grade readers who want that perfect book this summer.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Scholastic Press, the publisher, for review purposes.