“The Unforgettable Logan Foster” by Shawn Peters is a middle grade story that lives up to its title — it’s charming and filled with so much adventure and so many incredible characters that the book will be just that — unforgettable. It’s both rare and wonderful to find a middle grade fantasy which features a main character who is a very different kind of kid. The protagonist, Logan Foster, tells us his story as if he’s talking to us. In fact, he lets us know from the start that he is sharing this story for his younger brother—whoever and wherever he may be. Logan was found in an airport on the jetway of a flight that had just left for Boston. He was wearing a shirt that read “World’s Best Big Brother,” and on the tag of the tee shirt was written “L. Foster.” So Logan is sure that somewhere, he has a little brother, and he spends a lot of time online searching to try to find his sibling. Logan has an eidetic memory, and we realize that he’s very definitely neurodiverse. That makes his first person narrative interesting and humorous, as he will share his feelings and then repeat the dialogue that is practically identical to the thoughts that he shared. He admits, however, that he’s not adept at reading other people’s emotions.
Logan is living in a group home for orphans when Gil and Margie arrive and want to take him as a foster child. He’s not expecting much, as he had gone to live with other families numerous times, each foster home stay ending with his being returned to the orphanage. In fact, one especially despicable family didn’t even take him all the way inside the group home when returning him, leaving him outside by the dumpster. So he’s surprised that anyone wants him, and he’s not hopeful that things will turn out well.
We quickly learn that while Logan might have a difficult time reading people’s emotions, he is very analytical and perceptive. Because he remembers every word from every book he’s ever read, he has an incredibly huge store of knowledge. So he immediately knows when Gil and Margie are lying to him because he figures out their tells. He also notices other very strange things about them. He never sees Gil eat, and Margie’s cooking is so disastrous as to be virtually inedible. Gil’s clothes hanging in the closet are covered in dust, and there are no childhood pictures of Margie anywhere. In fact, everything in their house is brand new, down to the packets of food and staples like mustard and cereal. All brand new. And Logan wants to figure out why.
The setting is Los Angeles, and we know that L.A. is rife with earthquakes. But in the story, small earthquakes are happening in unexpected places, with lava rising from cracks in the earth. The geologists don’t know what to make of it, and during Logan’s first meeting with Gil and Margie, a small earthquake had happened, separating them. Logan and his case worker were forced to run, and that’s where Peters cleverly demonstrates Logan’s ability to think on his feet. He saves them both through some quick actions, but he also sees something that puzzles him. Later in the story, Peters reveals what is behind that strange glimpse of silver that Logan saw during the earthquake and their flight away from the chaos.
Logan soon uncovers that his prospective parents are really superheroes, and that there are some truly bad guys out to get them. An afternoon at the movies reveals one bad guy who wants to harm his foster parents. And it turns out there are more entities out there trying to capture superheroes. What happens when superheroes need some help? Can a very perceptive, extremely analytical, brilliant twelve-year-old with an eidetic memory save the day? Once you begin this action/fantasy/thriller, you won’t be able to put it down.
I would love to use this as a read aloud with 4th or 5th grade students. I imagine stopping the narrative to talk to the students about what it would mean to have an eidetic memory. Would they want that? What does it mean that he doesn’t really understand people’s emotions and doesn’t like being touched? What would it be like to be as perceptive as Logan is? Can students try to notice what is going on around them and come up with some suppositions and conclusions? And what if superheroes were real? What would they want their superpower to be?
The story also raises issues of justice and equity. Peters brings up the bystander effect and explains what it means. That’s something that is really important for students to consider. It says that the more people observing a crime or a person in need, the less likely any one person is to get involved. In the book, it’s called the public pool paradox. If you see a person drowning in a pool, you might assume that the lifeguard will save that person and call out for that to happen. If there is no lifeguard, you are more likely to actually try to save that person. A Chicago Tribune article about a death that occurred because of the bystander effect stated: “People are less likely to offer help when others are around because they assume someone else, perhaps more qualified, will assist, experts said. Psychologists refer to this as the “diffusion of responsibility.” Witnesses also worry that helping will make them look foolish, and they take cues from the others around them: inaction breeding inaction.” But because people are afraid of acting alone in a group—they might look foolish or be laughed at—no one acts at all. Discussing this in a classroom? Yes, please!
In the story, the fear is that if people knew superheroes were real, people would no longer feel that they had to solve problems or fight injustice. The expectation would be that the superheroes would take care of any problems. If you were a superhero, would you want that responsibility? The twist, of course, is that Logan is the one who does some pretty major problem solving to save the day. And he’s no superhero, just a brilliant kid with rather less-than-average physical prowess.
I was thrilled when the author let me know that there will be a sequel. Logan Foster is just too fabulous a main character to only star in one book. I want to know what’s next for him with his new family; how will Logan save the day (or rather the superheroes) next time? Peters told me, “Yes, the sequel is due 1/3/23… a year after the debut. It’s going to delve into Logan learning to be part of a family while still pursuing the facts of how he became an orphan.” And you know there will be lots and lots of action. Can’t wait.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper, the publisher, for review purposes.