Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl, by John Feinstein

John Feinstein’s Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl offers an appealing alternative to the majority of books aimed at preteen male readers (most of which seem to feature wizards, spies, and/or laser-toting aliens). While Cover-Up includes its fair share of armed thugs and sneering bad guys, it’s basically a thoughtful, entertaining novel about the world of sports journalism.

Cover-Up is the third book to feature precocious teen reporters Steve Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson. (In the first two installments of the series, Feinstein’s characters solved mysteries at the Final Four and the U.S. Open.) As the story opens, Stevie and Susan Carol are the stars of a cable talk show called Kid-Sports. Right before the Super Bowl, however, Stevie is fired, allowing the network to pair a reluctant Susan Carol with an older boy-band star. Stevie’s friends from the newspaper world rush to his rescue with a reporting assignment, and he and Susan Carol reunite at the Super Bowl, where (surprise!) they promptly uncover yet another scandal, this one involving steroid abuse.

My favorite kid mysteries tend to stick a little closer to home, minimizing the amount of disbelief I’m asked to suspend. It’s tough to buy two nice, well-chaperoned, nationally recognized teenagers being exposed to anything but the most squeaky-clean aspects of the sports world, much less finding themselves in a position to uncover any shocking secrets. (Wendelin Van Draanen’s Sammy Keyes series, for example, offers a more plausible kid-detective scenario: it’s a little hard to believe that one preteen girl could run into art forgers, gang members, and missing endangered birds, but Van Draanen reminds readers in every book that Sammy is a fearless and nosy kid with minimal adult supervision who lives in a rough, crime-ridden town.)

While Feinstein doesn’t pretend that his story is plausible—Stevie and Susan Carol make several wry comments about how unlikely it is that two teenagers could expose a scandal at the biggest sports event in the country—Cover-Up might have had even more impact: much of the book's second half is spent mulling over the possibility that the teens’ exposé will meet with a “kill the messenger” reaction, but the plot is set on such an impossibly grand scale that young readers may find the risks (i.e., major lawsuits) difficult to comprehend. What if Stevie and Susan Carol were exposing a group of local football heroes, risking disappointment and condemnation from their friends and neighbors? Cover-Up makes for an exhilarating read, but we’ll be even more excited if Stevie and Susan Carol’s next adventure hits a lot closer to home.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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