Firstly, I would really prefer to give the book 4 1/2 stars as it did have a couple of flaws but I guess I'm trying to over-compensate for the ridiculously low rating that it has ended up with. Secondly, I bought the book knowing that it was designed for Young Adult readership (thanks to other reviewers, NOT the publisher!).
Meet Tory Brennan - great-niece of the renowned Temperance Brennan. Tory has just moved in with her father, Kit, who lives & works on a small island, doing scientific research at the lab on the island. Tory Brennan is of above-average intelligence and fascinated by bones - a hereditary trait. She is adjusting to the loss of her mother and trying to form a relationship with her father, whom she hardly knows. This included putting up with the woman he is dating. Tory's best friends are three intelligent boys - whose parents also work on the island. They attend a private school on a neighbouring island but are somewhat outsiders - they are only "allowed" to attend it because of where their parents work. Their status is below that of under-privileged scholarship kids.
The kids wind up embroiled in two mysteries - the rescue of a wild wolf pup from a clinical research project and trying to establish the identity of bones they have come across.
Now - the characters are somewhat reminiscent of Blyton's 'Famous Five'. Fortunately, Reichs is far more PC influenced than Blyton ever was! The island setting contributes to this feeling of Blyton deja vu - it could be Kirrin Island and, yes, there's a dog. But, Reichs draws her characters beautifully. There are tense moments between adults and children. The children, realistically, feel that no-one believes them because of their age - which is also well depicted. The murder is intriguing as is the fall-out from the dog rescue. Suspense is built nicely and, amidst all this adventure, the kids do lead normal kid lives with the usual amount of teen angst. There is action. Goodies and baddies alike come as a surprise. Yeah, the kids dodge danger a little too conveniently at least twice. But, hey, that's what happens in adventure stories!
I could possibly have done without the sci-fi element. (I'm trying not to spoil the plot here) It becomes a little akin to James Patterson's 'Maximum Ride' series and, well, I think Reichs is at her best describing real scientific phenomena. But, I will hold off making a definitive judgement until I read how this strand develops in subsequent entries of the series. I suspect she added this element to try and appeal to today's fantasy-obsessed youth. Personally, I prefer realism in crime/mystery novels but that's just my opinion, it is not necessarily a reflection upon her talent as a writer. Basically - I'll wait and see.
The main characters are - despite being a little too clever and a little too conveniently mixed race (think 'Saved by the Bell' with the obligatory African-American and Hispanic included in the predominantly caucasian group) - believable and the relationships are realistic. To be fair, no characters in Young Adults' stories are "ordinary" or "normal". I mean, how dull would that be to read about? I will be buying Seizures - the next book in the series - partly to see how her relationship with Kit and his girlfriend develops as well as to see how the friends are coping since events in this story changed them. I believe relationships between characters are what transform good books into great ones. To be read as stand-alone novels, the mysteries need to be engaging - and I felt Reichs accomplished this.
I don't see this series as a crime series - which is how I would describe her adult offerings. I see them as adventure stories and in that, she succeeded. Don't read them expecting Tempe - you will be disappointed. Keep an open mind and cast yourself back to being fourteen - when you wanted adults to take you seriously, when you wanted to accomplish great things without adult assistance, when outdoor exploration was still exciting, when you held a million secrets from your parents and when hanging out with your friends was all you wanted to do. All of that is in this story.