How do you deal with a beloved parent who repeatedly fails you? That’s the question facing 11-year-old Alice Mistlethwaite in Natasha Farrant’s adventurous tale for middle grade readers, A Talent for Trouble.
Alice’s adoring mother dies, and her animated but n’er-do-well father is largely absent, prompting her Aunt Patience to sell the family estate and send Alice off to Stormy Loch Academy in the wilds of Scotland. Of her bookish, solitary niece who is always writing stories, Patience says, “She needs a new story—not to write, to live.”
Indeed, Alice finds just that, in a setup reminiscent of Harry Potter, complete with a wee hint of magic. There’s a lonely train ride to a new school; a patient, all-knowing headmaster (a collector of “lost souls” and “waifs”); and a trio of new friends who slowly discover their own talents and power for friendship. Alice is thrown together with athletic Jesse and genius Fergus as they enter the school’s Great Orienteering Challenge, using it as an excuse to embark on their own dangerous mission. The story really takes off when the three students set out on their secret quest to meet Alice’s father, Barney Mistlethwaite, who seems to be in trouble. Their adventure results in a memorable showdown.
British author Farrant keeps the tone jaunty and light, often addressing readers directly with both warnings and reassurances. Amid great danger and excitement, Alice learns to stand up for herself and confront her father’s neglect. An old-fashioned tale that tackles a timeless concern, A Talent for Trouble is full of daring exploits and essential lessons.