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Montooth and the Canfield Witch    by Robert Jay Amazon.com order for
Montooth and the Canfield Witch
by Robert Jay
Order:  USA  Can
Cloverleaf, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover
* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

The 1950s could be considered the golden age of young adult mysteries. Author Robert Jay attempts to hearken back to this time period with his Carty Andersson series. He introduces this plucky heroine in Montooth and the Canfield Witch.

Living on the outskirts of the Everglades, eighth-grader Carty Andersson knows how to survive in a swamp. The tomboy is a skilled bow hunter and tracker who can even keep her cool when faced with Montooth, the largest alligator in Morose Swamp. However, her skills are put to the test when she and her three friends, Blake, Hale, and Mack, stumble upon a devious plot while searching for specimens for their science class. It seems a bunch of ruthless men are after Sally Canfield, a supposed witch who keeps a treasure on her property. Carty knows Sally is not a real witch, but it takes some convincing to get the boys to believe her.

Even though Sally is harmless, there are real dangers in the swamp, and Carty, Sally, and her friends find themselves fighting for their lives. Jay does an amazing job capturing the feel of the 1950s, and not just through the use of pop culture references (some of which are included in the endnotes). While Carty and her friends are very well-developed and real, there is no way they could be confused with a teen of today. The same goes for the setting, which Jay brings to vibrant life from the first page.

The plot is intriguing more suspense than mystery, as we see what the bad guys are thinking early on but the structure could use a little work. YA books from the 50s tended to focus on the main character, not jump around between characters as Jay does, including copious back stories that could confuse some younger readers who are not used to this technique. Also, the main climax comes with more than a quarter of the book left. While there is a secondary climax, the end still feels too much like falling action and prevents readers, especially younger ones, from fervently flipping pages to get to the end. However, the technique of including a substory in the middle was unique and well executed.

Montooth and the Canfield Witch is a fun period piece that lets readers, young and old alike, get a feel for the good ol' days. I do look forward to future installments to see how Carty matures, along with Robert Jay's writing.

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