The Genius Files is a new series from one of my favorite kids’ authors: Dan Gutman. It’s the story of Coke and Pepsi McDonald, twins living in California. The story opens with Coke and Pepsi walking home from school at the end of the school year, dreading the cross-country RV trip they will take over the summer with their parents.
Gradually realizing they are being followed, the twins find themselves suddenly running from strange men in golf carts wearing bowler hats. They are intercepted by a woman who insists they change into flight suits. As they are doing so the woman is struck down by a blow dart from the men in the golf carts. Making a split second decision, Coke pushes his sister Pepsi off a cliff and jumps after her. And that’s all in the first 20 pages.
Coke and Pepsi discover they have been identified as participants in genius scientist/inventor Dr. Warsaw’s plan to save the world by using children: The Genius Files. The twins accept the offer to actively participate in missions for The Genius Files and are helped along the way by two operatives: Bones and Mya (the woman from the cliff).
As they begin their cross-country drive the twins believe they are safe away from their home. They are wrong. Assailants pursue them across the country making continued attempts on their lives. Coke and Pep show the ingenuity we knew they possessed in escaping multiple attacks. Everything culminates on the twins’ birthday in the Infinity Room at The House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Nothing is as it seems and everything must change the moment they come face to face with The Genius Files.
During the cross-country trip the McDonalds tour some of the most bizarre sights in the USA. Mrs. McDonald writes an Amazing But True website and is fascinated by random, useless bits of information. (Coke seems to take after his mother.) They visit a Pez museum, a yo-yo museum, the Salt Flats in Utah and the two biggest balls of twine in the world–one of which, located in Darwin, MN, I admit to having seen myself.
The story is a mix of lighthearted, over-the-top adventure with a little bit of mystery, intrigue and odd American lore. Readers can follow the McDonald’s driving tour by using google maps; Gutman has posted instructions for doing so in the margins. Some of the tourist information drags a little, but there are enough thunderbolts of adventure mixed in to keep the reader engaged.
It is not one of my favorite works by Gutman, but it is fun and easy to read. It would be a great read-aloud in a classroom that was doing geography of the United States. I think young readers will enjoy it and I look forward to the next book in the series to see if some of the kinks have been worked out to elevate the series to a higher level.