Union Square & Co. Jun. 2022. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781454937623.
Gr 4-7–Twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth, who is white, relishes his stay at the Hotel Paraiso, a health resort in Florida in the late 19th century. Assuming his asthma will shorten his life, Algie resents his brother Everett and his mother’s coddling and hopes to gain juvenile renown with a paper published by The Chicago Academy of Natural History. Soon after arrival, Algie rescues an anthropomorphic octopus and meets the millionaire owner Aloysius Davenport’s two daughters, Frankie and Lulu, described as half Cuban with blonde and curly brunette hair, respectively. Sharing a mutual interest in field biology, the three join forces to uncover the mystery of dying sea life, and to figure out what the unscrupulous Professor Champion, Madam Maximus (head of the Aerial Acrobats), and her performer Angel O’Dare are planning. The octopus is a great sidekick, picking locks by tentacle. Algie has a winsome urgency that makes him likable. Staring his mortality down, Algie faces a limited window to make his mark on the world. His relationships with his family and new friends are realistic and evolve as Algie, Frankie, and Lulu face dangerous adults. In the life-threatening denouement, Algie displays a nuanced empathy for others. There may be a few too many elements thrown in the mix, but the story bears them moderately well.
VERDICT While a Calpurnia Tate–style historical fiction has a particular audience, this boasts a rich setting, an ecological mystery, and enough character development to recommend it.

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