There’s just about everything needed for a terrific mystery in the pages of the new novel “Finding Mighty” from Sheela Chari: missing persons, lost treasure, eccentric criminals, breakneck chases, a dilapidated house. There are mistaken identities, shifting points of view and unconventional settings.
The leading characters are mismatched friends who discover along the way that they aren’t as mismatched as they seem. And they are in the sixth grade.
“Finding Mighty” is an absolutely winning mystery for young adult readers. It is also a clever enough page-turner to entertain the most jaded adult reader.
Myla and Peter don’t know each other yet. Myla is a tentative youngster, a sixth-grader who is still working at discovering the path she will take through adolescence. She’s ready for the world — sort of.
She’s Indian American. She worries that she stands out. She also worries that she’s invisible.
Maybe things will move towards whatever normal is if she can just stop being so fearful about starting middle school.
To that end, she goes with her family to a local street fair and purchases a beautiful necklace that seems the perfect complement for the first day at the school where her father teaches math. She ends up in the middle of the biggest adventure she’s ever experienced, as well as attracted, sort of, to the young man who moves into the vacant house next door in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Twelve-year-old Peter is Indian American, too — and African American and white. He lives with his mother, remembers his father, who died when Peter was 5, and desperately misses his older brother Randall, who disappeared one night a while back.
Now Peter’s bigger worry is that Randall will not be able to find him and his mother in their new house in Dobbs Ferry.
Randall — whose nickname is “Mighty” — has, like their father it seems, taken up spray painting graffiti on the sides of buildings after dark. And Randall’s graffiti tag is remarkably like that of their father: it’s an “Om,” referencing the yogic sound that confirms oneness and harmony.
It is also the symbol on the necklace Myla has just bought, the necklace that some very sinister-looking individuals want to take from her.
Add to that a couple of pairs of fake Air Jordans, parkour, Manhattan’s Diamond District, gangs, a deceased grandmother, High Bridge, and the New York Aqueduct Trail and the Keeper’s House on it.
“Finding Mighty” is a truly engaging mystery for middle-grade readers. Peter and Myla are so undeniably appealing that, as they steel themselves to navigate the waters of adolescence, we know they will, together, solve the mystery of the missing diamonds and the mystery of the missing brother.
Sheela Chari also wants them to uncover the many definitions of family and to recognize that “when you’re in a family, you need to look over your shoulder. Because sometimes it’s you up ahead, and sometimes it’s you coming from behind.”
Steven Whitton is a Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.