Science thriller meets low-level horror in this first-person narrated middle grade novel. Magnolia is an aspiring naturalist who lives in Shady Pines with her older brother and grandmother after their father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work. Her best friend, Nate, is an aspiring YouTuber conspiracy theorist. The two head to Old Bell’s farm to investigate possible paranormal activity, only to stumble on something far more insidious: giant, bio-luminescent mushrooms, and Old Man Bell, who collapses after catching the kids on his property. Old Bell’s mysterious last words are unsettling enough, but Maggie’s brother, his friends, and her Shady Pines neighbors start acting strangely, prompting Maggie to start doing some investigating into the possible mutant mushroom takeover. Maggie is a smart, fully realized character; Nate is largely played for laughs as her foil, but this is the first “Maggie and Nate Mystery”, and I’m looking forward to seeing both characters develop in future adventures. There’s delightfully creepy and gross moments, filled with freaky mushroom spores, giant spiders, and bat guano, for starters. An author’s note touches on the facts inspiring the fiction and makes for a great STEM discussion book.
Visit author Summer Rachel Short’s webpage for a Mutant Mushrom Takeover discussion guide, and to read about the next Maggie and Nate mystery coming next year!