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Contemporary Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Mystery/Adventure

CHARLIE THORNE AND THE LAST EQUATION by Stuart Gibbs

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation was a definite 4-star read for me. I have been a fan of Stuart Gibbs since I first read Belly Up (and shared it with a 4th Grade classroom) in 2010! I love Stuart Gibbs’  FunJungle, Last Musketeer, and  Moon Alpha Base series and was looking forward to picking up the first in his new series. I was not disappointed.

Charlie Thorne is a 12-year-old genius. The CIA has been looking for an equation hidden by Albert Einstein for 70 years. This equation holds the key to ultimate power (and destruction) for the world if it falls into the wrong hands. Recently there has been renewed activity surrounding the search when it becomes clear a terrorist group called the Furies is also actively looking for Einstein’s equation and they seem to have information no one outside the CIA should possess. In desperation, a CIA agent named Dante Garcia proposes using Charlie’s incredible gifts to help them solve the clues that will lead them to Einstein’s discovery ahead of the Furies.

I truly don’t mind an outlandish premise as long as the plot and characters grow organically from that premise. Gibbs achieves just that in Charlie Thorne.

The Things I LOVED about Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation:

  1. I love that the central hero of an action thriller for kids is a girl! She’s confident and genius-level clever and yet Gibbs has drawn her genuinely as a 12-year-old. She has issues of hurt and abandonment with her parents and despite her incredible intellect, like all 12-year-olds she sometimes has trouble predicting the outcome of her choices–particularly the emotional fallout for those involved.
  2.  The story is definitely plot-driven in the tradition of fast-paced thrillers, which will delight middle grade readers who are hungry for more complicated, propulsive storylines that are still age-appropriate in language and content. Both the plotline and the language definitely at a more mature level than younger elementary readers, but not quite as graphic as young adult literature can often become. Stuart Gibbs excels at writing in that oh-so-hard-to-achieve sweet spot between the two, providing an exciting story for middle-grade readers that acknowledges their growing maturity without pushing them into areas for which they are not yet prepared.
  3.  This novel is full of challenging puzzles left as clues from Einstein that will engage young readers who enjoy series like The Puzzling World of Winston Breen and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. This interactive aspect to the book shows the author’s respect for his readers as he tacitly invites them to participate in deciphering the clues along the way.

My Only Quibbles with Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation–and they are just quibbles:

  1. I wish the historical connections between the storyline in the present and Albert Einstein were more completely woven into the story throughout. The Prologue at the moment of Einstein’s death is written the way I have come to expect from Gibbs: it pulls the reader immediately into the past and establishes a tangible connection to the people and events. Unfortunately, after the prologue I felt that a lot of the historical connection of the book was related in a more didactic fashion (a present-day character telling the others the history behind a discovery or event) rather than involving the reader directly in it.
  2.  There were a couple of times during chase scenes with Charlie that I felt my suspension of reality being stretched to its furthest limits. I will codify this statement by saying I truly believe this was completely due to the fact I am an adult with more life experience than the intended reading audience for this book. My sense is that as a young reader I probably would not have had any issues with the believability of the action since it does develop organically from the plot. I remember as a child watching movies written and directed for children with children as the main characters during which my parents tsked their tongues at the unrealistic situations on screen. I was annoyed by my parents’ actions, but never by the actual scene being played out in front of me. I’m pretty sure that is what was at play for me in the moments where I was tempted to roll my eyes at a couple of Charlie’s escapes.

The Final Word:

I truly enjoyed reading Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation and will be recommending it enthusiastically to middle grade readers who enjoy action-based plots. I will also add that I think Gibbs has a lot of room to further develop these characters deep and interesting ways. (First books in a series are usually used to establish characters, with development happening in the ensuing installments.) I believe all of my moments of disconnect (really, only about two or three) from the characters or story stem from the fact I am older than the intended reading audience.

I am grateful for and glory in writers like Stuart Gibbs who are clearly passionate about writing for this middle-grade audience and do so with such respect and appreciation for them. This is reflected in all Gibbs’ work and I recommend looking into his other series as well.

 

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