Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: NY, 1996.
Andy Thomas thinks the only way his genealogy project could be interesting is if one of his ancestors was an outlaw - until he discovers it's a possibility. He's given an old family bible with one of the children's names crossed out. When questioned, his great-aunt refuses to answer any questions about the matter. It is believed that Cole Joseph Bonner stole his family's fortune and took off for California. In finding a picture of the man, Andy determines Cole must be innocent and decides to prove it. He is thorough in his investigation, using sources such as family letters, a genealogical message board, direct emails, library books, his teacher's advice, a librarian's knowledge and expert research skills, and in the end, a family artifact to prove his case.
Andy receives threats regarding his pursuing the mystery. Everyone seems to want him to drop his investigation. With each clue he becomes more determined, even visiting the cemetery for leads. His success in finding evidence is amazing, but the solution leaves him with a larger problem than when he started. He wanted justice so badly, but not so much once he learns the truth.
I read this mystery about 8 years ago after enjoying Nixon's Orphan Train series. My oldest son was reading some of his first novels, and Nixon's books were a hit. I remember being excited by this story then, and it was just as good this time around. The combination of the genealogical research, the mystery to be solved, and the boy's desire to clear his relative's name is tremendous. Nixon is a master storyteller, leading us step by step with great anticipation. I love unusual books, and this one is quite unique. It has a great range for readers as well, accessible and engaging for 4th graders through adults.
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