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Reviewed by Hilary Hawkes for Readers' Favorite
Mystery at the Secret River is a novel for children by Kathryn Foster, based on true events with a Christian theme. Courtney meets Anglos on her grandparents’ farm. He is one of the migrants and is picking crops to earn the money for medical training. Fourteen-year-old Courtney longs to see her friend Brianna become a Christian, and is annoyed when she allows new lads Rob and Larry to discover their special place by a secret river. When Anglos’ family’s money goes missing, Courtney is determined to find out who has taken it. Before long, her faith in God is tested as she, Anglos, and Brianna uncover a crime, and get caught up in puzzling and frightening events. So can Courtney’s faith make all the difference and bring them through?
This well-written adventure story shares a message about belief and trust in God and the Christian faith. Delightful black and white illustrations enhance the tale. Through the character of Courtney, readers discover how it is possible to find strength and direction through prayer. It is also a lesson and encouragement in sharing that faith with others in everyday as well as extraordinary circumstances. The plot unfolds fairly gently in the first half of the book, and then moves at a more eventful and exciting pace. The different characters, their backgrounds and lives link together with a few unexpected surprises. I especially liked Anglos with his determination to make his life better.
With the story set in the 1960s, there is an interesting historical aspect too – the struggles of migrant workers in places like Oregon, and the annual Scandinavian Festival. Kathryn Foster writes a good children’s story with plenty of mystery and suspense, and I was kept guessing as to what exactly was going on to the end. Weaving faith into a fictional story through the thoughts and actions of characters, and showing the difference belief makes, is a good way to encourage young readers to ponder and learn more about the Christian faith. A delightful story about trust, courage, and forgiveness, this is suited to preteen readers.