Cover courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

Cover courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

The Trap

The summer stretches for miles, and you’ve got plans.

You’re going to pack each day with as much fun as you can. It’s gonna be great – although, admit it: by the time summer ends, you’ll be a little bit glad to go back to school, won’t you? That’s the way four young friends feel, but in the new book “The Trap” by Steven Arntson, they have to make a few things right first.

Carl Dunn didn’t seem to be a diary-keeping kind of kid.

There was once a time when he didn’t seem to be the bullying type, either, and almost-seventh-grader Henry Nilsson remembered those days. Now, Carl “was the worst bully” in their corner of Iowa.

Henry would’ve totally avoided Carl if possible, but Carl was big brother to Henry’s best friend, Alan, and in that late summer of 1967, Alan was worried. Carl had been skipping baseball practice and there were nights when he didn’t come home. That wasn’t at all like Carl; stranger still, he was journaling and what he wrote sounded dangerous.

And that was why Henry, his twin sister Helen, Alan, and Helen’s best friend Nikki were on their bikes in the woods at a campsite where Carl had been. They were looking for clues to his odd behavior when Henry found a book buried in a box beneath a pile of moldy old science fiction novels. “Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self” had a plain cover. Henry put it in his rucksack because he liked to read.

That night, cracking the book open, he discovered something amazing.

At first, it didn’t make sense: the book instructed readers to recite some numbers, then “using your eyes, rock yourself” to step out of the physical body. When it worked, and Henry met Carl while walking around in a parallel world, he couldn’t wait to tell Helen and their friends so they could do it, too. Meeting with the author’s widow made the trick even cooler – until she invited the kids to a graveyard and Henry’s other body got ensnared in a ghostly Trap.

That’s when Henry knew that getting out wouldn’t be easy…

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: “The Trap” has a very definite Stand by Me vibe. It’s also reminiscent of old ‘50s sci-fi novels and every other middle-grade four-kids-bored-with-summer story you’ve ever read – only a little bit sharper.

There is, in fact, a big creep factor inside this book that will appeal to kids with good imaginations, and a thread of sweetly awkward romance to soften the story. Author Steven Arntson then further sets his book apart with parents that are more than just caricatures and a kid-centric ending that also feels very grown-up (hint: it’s not necessarily a happy one).

I think that if your child enjoys science fiction but wants something a little more solid, or if you’re looking for a quick, decent read yourself, you can feel good choosing this one. For fourth-through-seventh-grade readers and adults alike, “The Trap” is a book to get caught in.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

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