Divorced parents – pretty common for tweens these days. Mom getting married to somebody else - not unusual. New step-siblings – awkward but not impossible. But in Under Their Skin, the first book in a new two-part series, there’s just a little bit too much weirdness. And leave it to popular tween author Margaret Peterson Haddix to turn that weirdness into a page-turning, complex, and highly accessible tween read.
Twelve-year-old twins Nick and Erin are just a little surprised when their school counselor Mom announces her engagement to the computer programmer she’s been dating. But they are shocked to learn that Michael has twins – a boy and a girl Nick and Erin’s age – that they’ve never met, or even heard of before. The future living arrangements are perplexing; the twins will move with Mom into Michael’s house, but they’ll never meet their new step-siblings. Nick and Erin will be at their Dad’s house on alternating weeks, and that’s when their step-brother and –sister will be with Mom and Michael. Now that’s not too unusual, is it? Of course our curious protagonists begin the investigation that drives the plot.
A quick look at the cover, the title, and the book jacket synopsis leads the reader to the easy conclusion that technology is involved in the mystery of the step-siblings. In fact, most of your students will enjoy watching Nick and Erin discover what they’ve already figured out. As displayed in many of her previous books including Running Out of Time, Game Changer, and The Missing series, Haddix is at her best when something’s just not right.
But Under Their Skin takes it one step further, with a plot twist that took me totally by surprise. This development pushes the story in a whole new direction with far-reaching implications. Haddix manages to tackle these big issues while moving the plot along at a quick pace. There’s no philosophical treatise; no third-act slump. Every chapter features at least one new question, observation, or reveal that guides Nick and Erin to the answers they seek.
Under Their Skin is not perfect. There are a couple of plot elements that were confusing to me. (And elaboration would spoil the reveal for you.) Maybe the holes are filled in the second book, In Over Their Heads, due April, 2017. The first book ends with a satisfying reveal, but there are more questions than answers. Nick and Erin must embark on a voyage of discovery in their newly-found existence. Haddix is the perfect captain and guide.
Under Their Skin will appeal to most tween readers. Buy a couple of copies for your library media center, and your classroom collection. They’ll want to read the conclusion, In Over Their Heads, so be mark your calendars for its April release.