The Strangers is the first in a new series, Greystone Secrets, by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The Greystones live in Ohio with their mother, Kate. (Their father died eight years before we meet them.) The story begins with the three Greystone children–Chess (6th grade), Emma (4th Grade) and Finn (2nd Grade)–racing each other home from school after being dropped off by the bus. They burst into their house expecting a snack and hugs from Mom. Instead, they find their mother staring, horror-stricken, at a news story on her laptop: three children have been kidnapped in Arizona. The three children who have been kidnapped have the same names and the same birth dates as the Greystone children. Although the kids find this a crazy–and somewhat unsettling–coincidence, their mother seems absolutely terrified by the news.
The next morning, Kate tells the children she has to go to Chicago on business and she will be leaving them for a few days with Ms. Morales and her daughter–two people whom the children don’t remember ever meeting before. After school Ms. Morales (and her 7th Grade daughter Natalie) bring the Greystones to their house to pick up their suitcases. When Natalie and the Greystones enter their house the mystery deepens when they discover that their mother’s office in the basement is more than it appears.
The book tells the story of the Greystone children and Natalie as they work to solve the mysterious connection between their mother’s departure and the kidnapping in Arizona. When the children discover the truth, it brings with it more confusion and new dangers. The pacing of the story is fairly smooth and it moves along without a lot of unnecessary tangents during the first three-quarters of the book as the children are trying to puzzle out what has actually happened. Once the children have the answer to the mystery the pacing shifts gears a little and speeds up, as the plot transitions from mystery to adventure/sci-fi thriller. The story is told through changing points of view from Chess, Emma and Finn. The individual narrators’ voices are slightly different but not terribly distinguishable from one another–except in Finn’s case, whose voice reflects his younger age in contrast with his siblings. You get an overview of the children as characters: Chess is serious, thoughtful and protective; Emma is extremely intelligent, logical and loves science and math; and Finn is impulsive, exuberant and motivated by his heart. (It’s often the case in the first book of a series that characters, settings and situations are merely introduced and the succeeding books of the series begin to more deeply develop these elements of the story.)
Although at the end of the book some characters are temporarily safe and some are not, it is still a satisfying conclusion to the first book of a series. There are characters left in peril and many questions still without answers–but in a good way, rather than an irritating one. The end of this first book feels like an opportunity to pause, catch your breath and decompress a little before beginning the second installment.
I enjoyed both the plot and the pacing of The Strangers. It was definitely a 3.5/5 star read for me. I was not particularly engaged by the three main characters–for the reasons I stated above–but was absolutely intrigued and swept along by the plot. For young readers who like mystery and adventure with an age-appropriate, heart-stopping, race-from-danger kind of climax, The Strangers is a perfect choice. It would easily work as an independent or read-aloud selection at home or school.