MMGMI’ve been meaning to read THE SEVENTH LEVEL ever since I saw it on the local authors table at the Missouri SCBWI conference in 2010. I’m excited to feature a book from a fellow St. Louisan. I’ve read a couple lately, although the other one (KATANA by Cole Gibsen) was a YA book. In both cases, I loved the St. Louis references. It’s so fun to read a book and think, “I’ve been there!” or “That’s my team!”

From the inside cover:

Lauer Middle School has a super-secret society–The Legend. No one knows who is in it. Or how they pull off the spectacular schoolwide events.

Seventh grader Travis Raines may be about to find out. A shiny blue envelope marked FOR YOUR EYES ONLY mysteriously appears in his locker. You have been chosen, the message says. But if Travis is to become Legendary, he must first solve a series of mind-bending puzzles and complete their challenges. Then he needs to stay out of trouble. The assistant principal has her eye on him. So do his parents.

And even if he does all that’s asked of him, Travis still has one question: is the message really from the Legend?

Here are five things I loved about THE SEVENTH LEVEL.

1. It makes you think – I love it when a book gives me puzzles. These puzzles include math, music, word games and even an optical illusion. It’s fun to watch Travis figure them out and get frustrated when he doesn’t. I admit that if I didn’t immediately know the trick I didn’t try too hard to do them myself, but I can imagine a middle grade reader trying to solve the puzzles.

2. Travis’ facade – It’s the little things about a character that stand out sometimes, and that’s definitely the case with Travis. Even when he’s hurt by the way everyone assumes he’s behind the increasingly destructive pranks at school, he puts on a cocky smile and acts like he has everything under control. That said a lot to me about his character. The only opinions that really mattered to him were those of his closest friends–well, and also the people with the power to punish him.

3. Mrs. Pinchon – It might seem strange for a teacher to be one of my favorite things about a middle grade novel, but I really loved the way Jody Feldman unveiled this character throughout the book. Mrs. Pinchon is a very smart lady, as evidenced by the way she handles Travis’ infractions. And it’s interesting to see the way Travis’ view of her changes from feared disciplinarian to trusted ally. It’s a great representation of Mrs. Pinchon’s favorite phrase and a theme of the book: “Things aren’t always as they appear.”

4. The layers – The book may be about seven levels, but there are also about seven layers of story happening, and most of them have to do with the theme I mentioned. There are so many things going on that Travis doesn’t understand, as well as things he thinks he understands but really doesn’t–like the way his two best friends whisper together or the true character of a boy he thinks is a bully. They all tie together nicely in the end.

5. The parents – So often in middle grade books the parents are absent or dead, and that’s fine if it’s necessary to the story. In this case, I liked that Travis’ parents were present and involved in his life. While he did have to get around them a few times, he also knew when to get their approval for his actions. They were decent parents who cared about what their son was doing. As a parent myself, I appreciate that.

Have you read THE SEVENTH LEVEL? If so, what was your favorite puzzle?

For my querying friends, Jody Feldman is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary.


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