I’m a sucker for a teacher who writes a novel for middle school age students and if that novel revolves around the theme of music, well … you had me at music. Steve Reifman, a classroom teacher and now education consultant, wrote Chase Against Time, which follows the nearly minute-by-minute account of a fifth grader named Chase Manning as he seeks to uncover who stole the prized cello that is to be auctioned off in order to save the school’s vaunted music program. The mystery unfolds over the course of a single school day, just before vacation break.
Here, Reifman has created an environment in the school where music is seen as important as sports and other academic areas (… if only that were the case in every school). Chase, and his friends, are readying themselves for stressful auditions to make next year’s award-winning sixth grade orchestra, which is highly coveted. But the arts program is in budget trouble (reality check!), the orchestra is about to be shut down, and the auction of a valuable cello at the night’s auction event is the only thing that can save the program. So, when the cello gets stolen from the display case in the school hallway, the principal turns to Chase to follow clues as to its whereabouts before the day ends. Chase is seeking to find the cello, save the orchestra, and get through a middle school day. He’s up for the task, though.
There’s a lot to like here. The pacing is quick. Chase is an intriguing character. A missing cello, and all of the various red herrings, make for an interesting mystery story. I didn’t quite buy into all of the teacher and adult characters, though. I thought a few of them were too flat, and the resolution of the mystery itself was a little predictable. And the grand reward that awaits Chase at the end was not quite believable, even in a fiction story. (Sorry, Steve.)
But those quibbles of my adult reader eyes doesn’t mean this book won’t be enjoyed by a few of my sixth graders, particularly those in our music program. I’m definitely passing this one on to some select students.
Reifman has done a nice job crafting a mystery story in Chase Against Time, and the use of the chapters based on class periods and minutes of the day, was effective in keeping the narrative moving along at a steady clip. It does feel a bit like the television show “24,” but without the terrorists, and it replaces danger with more of the humor and pointed politics of a school. The subtitle for the book is Chase Manning Mystery #1, so I am assuming Reifman has some other stories up his sleeve. I hope he is sharing his writing and publishing process with the teachers he works with, so he can inspire more of them to become writers, too.
Peace (in the chase),