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Sketchy Behavior soft cover book Review by Donna Campos

Erynn Mangum
5300 Patterson Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, MI, 49530

The friendly, bright colored pencils decorating the bottom of the graph paper design cover will catch your interest, while the actual sketches of eyes at the top peak your curiosity for Sketchy Behavior, by Erynn Mangum. This glossy softcover book of 220 pages is a young adult fiction novel measuring 5.5" x 8.5" and is about ¾" thick. Teenagers will relate to the main character, Kate Carter, as they step into her day-to-day life. As a 16-year-old with a gift for sketching, a bit of a sarcastic streak, a brother who feels distant even without the physical distance of him attending college, and two loving parents with plans for her future, Kate can be a very relatable character for many teenagers. The story is one of suspense as her gift in art tumbles her into being the center of attention city-wide, and beyond, putting Kate and her family in danger until a sought after criminal is finally caught. The book is a good, clean read appropriate for teenagers and does not involve educational support material like a workbook or expansion activities. The storyline does include public schooling and not a homeschool environment, but the education environment is not an integral part of the story.

A simple art class activity quickly throws all eyes on Kate Carter, the gifted 16-year-old sketch artist who unknowingly drew a wanted criminal. Her sketch occurred because of the teaching tactics of her creative art teacher, who was taking her class through various job opportunities related to their coursework. Kate's father wants her to become an engineer, like himself and her brother, currently studying engineering in college. Kate simply wants to draw. The story includes a blossoming friendship with a classmate, Kate's family attending church together as a new experience, her discovery of the different services of their local Baptist church, and certainly a look into the world of the criminal sketch artist. The book is suspenseful and includes great little bits of humor throughout as readers watch Kate move from hero, to victim, captive, and eventually on with her life--which may include the career of criminal sketching. It is a good look into the life of a fairly normal family thrown into the spotlight through no real fault of their own.

Sketchy Behavior is easily read and I appreciated that it is a book without profanity, anything remotely related to promiscuity, and includes clean humor, which can be difficult to find. Occasionally, some of the wit may annoy readers sensitive to honest remarks made by Kate Carter, the main character, as a straight-forward teenager thinking inside her own head. For example, her references to the local evening news reporter as "the too-white-toothed Ted Deffle", or her comment about "a tiny old woman with hair that was whiter than anything OxiClean had ever treated" when meeting a woman at church, may come across as rude. Some conversations may not be considered humorous, like a casual discussion of Miley Cyrus while viewing a television program when one of the police officers comments, "if I were her, I'd stay brunette. But then, what do I know about the fashions of dimwitted, psychologically stunted multibillionaires?" Overall, I didn't find anything too offensive, as it was often personal thoughts and not meant to be demeaning. I did appreciate the author taking a direct stance for modesty. When Kate had to speak with reporters while seated up on a stage she thinks to herself: "I was also glad I hadn't worn a skirt. That would have put the edge of my hem on eye level with the cameras." One thing I did find a little frustrating was toward the end of the book, Kate's parents seem to drastically leave character by taking a walk while in the midst of a dangerous situation. For two people concerned about their daughter, being guarded by a police officer in a safe house, heading out for a walk seemed a bit ridiculous. Still, the story was good and it was great to see inside the mind of a teenager.

I found Sketchy Behavior to be wonderful and I would have given it to my daughters even as pre-teenagers. Kate quickly moves from being a fairly normal teenager to the unsuspecting criminal sketch artist for the local police force, inadvertently capturing a murderer, which quickly throws the story into one of suspense, with a wonderful ending where readers find her family intact. Erynn Mangum does a beautiful job lacing humor throughout the book, while revealing Kate as a teenager seeking the truth--including the eternal truth of a God who is in control. I'll note the book does not include any deep discussion about salvation, as it only provides a glimpse at her initial wonder about God and His place in her life. Kate's little verbal jabs at the police men providing protection for her family make her feel like the younger sister amidst protective brothers, as do her struggles with the nightmares she has while under their watchful eye. Her quick wit and curious nature keep her interesting and the support characters have depth and personality as well. This is the first time I've read anything from Erynn Mangum and I will definitely be back for more! Sketchy Behavior tells a wonderful story of suspense through the eyes of a teenage girl simply seeking to understand the people around her better, while learning a little more about herself along the way.

Product Review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2011