By: Margaret Sutton
Publisher: Applewood Books; Reprint edition
Publication Date: July 2008
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 30, 2012
Judy Bolton is a fifteen-year-old who knows what she wants - and she's not afraid of anyone, or anything. In The Vanishing Shadow, the first book in the Judy Bolton series, we meet Judy, her older brother Horace, and several other characters who we will see in other stories.
When the tale opens, Judy is lamenting the fact that her parents have gone away on vacation and she and Horace have to stay with her grandmother in boring old Dry Brook Hollow. Judy would much rather be home in Roulsville, but she's stuck and has to make the best of it. Because Dry Brook Hollow isn't far from Roulsville, Judy knows many of the people around town. While talking to Edna Jenkins, the storekeeper's daughter, the pair overhear two workman arguing. The bigger of the two workman, the one who was clearly in charge, sees Judy and Edna and tells them to keep quiet and forget about what they just saw/heard. Both girls agree, but inquisitive Judy will soon be up to her neck in the dangerous dealings of the workman.
While sitting alone in a beech grove, trying to read one of the books her father left her, a shadow crossed the page. Judy looks around but can't find anybody. Trying to read again, the shadow once again passes across the page and Judy looks up just in time to see the bushes part. Without much thought, Judy jumps up and follows the path of the person who had just been spying on her. But it was a foolish action because that person soon gains the upper hand when he kidnaps Judy and briefly imprisons her in a small, abandoned building.
After a frightening night alone in the abandoned building (really more of a room), Judy's captors return and convince her to make an unfortunate promise. Once the promise is made, they release Judy, but now she must solve the mystery of what these men were doing without breaking her promise. She soon learns the truth and realizes that it involves the local dam and could kill many townspeople. Will she be able to stop these men in time to save the lives of many people?
Originally published in 1932, The Vanishing Shadow is a good, wholesome teen mystery "like they used to write." The writing is solid, and while some of the words and phrases may be a bit outdated, the book offers an excellent opportunity for readers to expand their vocabulary and learn a bit about what life was like back in the 30s (for instance, while many travel by car, Judy rides her rather unruly colt all around town). There are a few holes in the plot that some readers may question, the biggest being why Judy would not tell any adults about the evil plot, just because she made a promise to the culprits. Surely, with lives at stakes, breaking a promise to a criminal is allowable. Otherwise, however, this is a nice introduction to the characters who make up a YA series that sold millions of copies during its heyday.
Quill says: A few plot problems but don't let that keep you from getting hooked on the Judy Bolton series.