Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
By Ryland Johnson
When you were a kid, you probably read a story about kids solving crimes. Whether it was Nancy Drew or The Boxcar Children, The Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown, there’s a good chance that a kid today is reading the same book. Children’s mystery has been a foundational genre of youth literature for more than a hundred years and has informed our pop-cultural sensibilities from Harry Potter to Scooby-Doo. A bunch of curious kids work together (perhaps alongside a lovable dog) to unmask the villain. It’s a story we’ve enjoyed since Oliver Twist.
Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids trades on the legacy of children’s mystery by imagining the adult lives of former child detectives. Spoiler alert: it’s dark. Some messed up things happened in the haunted mansion, things that people don’t talk about. For years. Meddling Kids picks up the story of the Blyton Summer Detective Club in recovery, with scars both physical and mental, as they return to Blyton Hills for one last case: to find out what really happened back then.
Cantero’s book is not the first to take up the thought exercise of adultifying a beloved children’s tale. In our pop-saturated media landscape there is no shortage of products pushing a hit of nostalgia. In Cantero’s hands, though, we get a solid story that manages to both reward and challenge expectations. Cantero delivers the beats and tropes like a pro, but with enough sass and creativity in language to keep it fresh and satisfying. This allows Cantero to counter saccharine moments with cold, punch-in-the-gut realism. Under it all there is a nuanced, often bittersweet meditation on the nature of storytelling. What do we do when we start telling the stories we were told when we were kids? There’s something true about the horror of it all, discovering that fairy tale kids are usually eaten by wolves, that the little mermaid was turned into seafoam. Meddling Kids is poignant because it realizes the horror of the adult perspective.
Cantero clearly loves the source material as well. Meddling Kids is as much a love letter to Where the Red Fern Grows as it is to Scooby-Doo. Cantero’s enthusiasm for adventure is infectious, filling the book with plenty of campy, spooky fun; but, he’s also captured the feeling of summer camp, the melodrama of teenage yearning, and the razor-sharp danger of innocent youthful recklessness. Altogether a worthwhile read for adult readers and fans of mysteries.