Ena Jones attended the intensive with me prior to the official beginning of the conference. But it wasn't until I went into the room set up with books for sale that I matched her name with a book I reviewed back in 2015. I was happy to discover that the book, Clayton Stone, At Your Service, now has a sequel, Clayton Stone, Facing Off. Happy to highlight one of the many Carolina authors I've met. Here is a re-posting of my review of the 1st book.
by Ena Jones
"The gun muzzle presses against my neck." Clayton Stone is a 7th grader attending a private school in DC where he is an average student and decent lacrosse player. He lives with his Gran who runs a diner, that is, until she is recalled from retirement by the President of the United States to reprise her role as the "Chief" of the Special Service. A Senator's wife and his daughter have been missing for a week, and other mall nappings are occurring. Clayton mistakenly overhears the phone call and soon finds himself pulled into the stake-out. Sure, it messes with his lacrosse schedule, and he hates keeping the real reason he's missing practices from his team, but he seems to have it in his blood. Plus, he loves the SpiPhone and other fun gadgets he gets to use. He does not, however, like the feeling of a gun muzzle against his neck. The struggle to balance school and his new calling is something in which Clayton must come to terms as he almost single handedly solves the mystery behind the kidnappings.
Each short chapter is headed by a date and timeline. Told in 1st person, the fast pace will appeal to middle grade readers, especially young boys who dream of their own James Bond adventures. When you get down to it, this is a story about loyalty to friends and family, with family including teammates of both the lacrosse and espionage sort.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I had to pause when Clayton both drove a car (which is hardly believable due to Washington DC traffic) and used a gun without training in either one. He, on more than one occasion, ignored specific instructions in the pursuit of saving the public and adding suspense to the story. I would have preferred he stuck to cool gadgets as used throughout the rest of the book. I know many parents will reject the book due to these issues. Also, there is some language that may offend some. Still I would recommend this book to readers aged 10-12, especially reluctant readers, who enjoy lots of action. It is different from other spy novels for young readers and full of fun characters.
Along with providing a 4-hour intensive, Gary Schmidt gave an incredible opening keynote speech, and it didn't take long before I was in tears. He has that effect. As an aside, I didn't realize he disliked cats so much. Or Harry Potter. Gary, Gary, Gary. Nevertheless, I finally had a book signed. I say finally because he is on faculty at Hamline where I received my MFA, and never once did I think to have a book signed! Now, I figure I probably don't have that many more chances just from the standpoint that I don't attend Hamline anymore. Funny how you think you'll always have that opportunity.
Also, there were six breakout sessions to choose from as well as a moderated Agent Panel and an Author's Roundtable. It wasn't all work. I really enjoyed the Family Feud-style game played on opening night, but some of those questions were hard! The chapter also gave out awards to its members, and one thing they did, which might be a tradition in the Carolinas, is have one of their own members provide the closing keynote. I thought that was great.
I met many lovely people there and ran into another advisor from Hamline, Dinah Johnson, as I was literally walking out the door to leave.
Thanks to the Carolinas chapter for letting me crash your conference. I'd love to go back again one day.