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'Dark Lighthouse' continues Larsen's Jackpine series

I am starting to figure out why Sandy Larsen's Jackpine Point Adventure Series books -- geared to readers ages 10 to 14 -- are enjoyable for me, a 29-year-old literati with zero children, to review.

I am starting to figure out why Sandy Larsen's Jackpine Point Adventure Series books -- geared to readers ages 10 to 14 -- are enjoyable for me, a 29-year-old literati with zero children, to review.
I think it's because her books have the plotting fundamentals down: too many writers, for young and old, don't take care of the basics of beginning, middle and end in their books. Larsen tells a story, and tells it well.
In "The Dark Lighthouse," the fourth and most recent entry in the series, Larsen again returns to the "Pointers," on another surprise adventure. This time, in signing up for a pageant to commemorate the renovation of a historic lighthouse, the Pointers (seen, as usual, through the eyes of David Malloy) stumble into a maze of grown-up conflicts. Thomas, an adult who walks around acting like a lighthouse keeper and claims to be a descendant of a previous lighthouse keeper, has developed a contentious relationship with the pageant's playwright and the folks working on the renovation. The Pointers are stuck in the middle.
Larsen writes very well. This book is full of writerly things -- making fun of words and David's little asides to himself, for instance -- and that makes for fun reading. I think this style will really gel with young readers, and encourage language skills, although some of it might be a little off for 14-year-olds.
The major characters play a little too much off of knowledge gained in previous books -- there's no guarantee readers have read previous books in the series -- but they're still pretty well developed.
And the story is a good one. Larsen handles the fundamentals superbly: the opening wastes no time getting readers involved, the middle develops the plot and subplots, and the end ties up everything.
If I had to quibble a little, I'd say that one subplot -- David's character is feeling a little spiteful toward his friend Dillon -- could end better. Substantial attention is given to drawing out these feelings, and David spends a lot of time stewing, but the end is less well developed. I would have liked to have seen it fleshed out a little more.
Still, the story is solid. Though not technically set in Duluth, the setting is one local readers will relate to. And although some of the conflicts and dangers are a little adult -- David ends up trapped in a lighthouse with a guy who's clearly having mental problems -- these dangers are handled with careful attention and shouldn't be too awfully scary.
All in all, this is another solid effort from Larsen. Based on the two books in the series I've read, I recommend parents and kids check out all four. Best of all, parents who preread books for their kids will probably actually enjoy it, too.
Kyle Eller is the Budgeteer book reviewer. Submit your books for review to him in care of the Budgeteer News, 222 West Superior Street, Duluth, Minn. 55802. To talk books, call him at 723-1207 or send e-mail to kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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