Book Review: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #2 – One False Note

Title: One False Note
Gordon Korman
Year of Publication: 
The 39 Clues: The Clue Hunt
Goodreads Rating (Avg.):
Goodreads Rating (Mine):

One False Note

With 11 books and half a dozen authors, The 39 Clues: The Clue Hunt is a big series to review all at once. However, it’s also a children’s series, complete with interactive gameplay. The plot is actually quite simple and to the point, and each book is filled with adventures meant to spread the experience over a number of instalments.

Plot Description: The Cahills are apparently a great and influential family that has produced pretty much every famous person you’ve ever heard of – and even some you’ve never heard of. They have a family secret that will lend great power to whoever knows how to use it, and the 39 clues to that secret are spread across the world. Unfortunately, the family (which is divided into branches of descendants of the original Cahill siblings) is consumed by infighting and an utter lack of co-operation.
After their adventures in Paris, Amy and Dan Cahill, their au pair Nellie and Saladin, their grandmother’s cat, journey to Vienna, Austria – to the birthplace of Nannerl Mozart and her famous brother Wolfgang.

I appreciate the efforts to hammer home the idea that Nannerl, despite her talent being equal to (or greater than) that of her brother, lost out on the opportunities for fame and success due to her gender.  However, this fact is put across so repeatedly and bluntly that even the most understanding of readers will tire of it. It smacks of overcompensation.

And with good reason, because this shallow and ham handed attempt at feminism is as good as it gets. Nellie and Amy are shown to be very upset about the unfairness surrounding Nannerl Mozart, which is great, but I’d have deeply appreciated it if Dan was shown as having some reaction to their revelations other than eye rolling and dismissing it as “Boring girl stuff.” Spouting feminist content is no good unless little white 11 year old boys understand why it’s important, the significance of it.

All the characters are bluntly outlined caricatures. Amy and Dan are, of course, the best fleshed out, but even they fit the tropes of orphaned, lonely youngsters with pluck and spirit. I also don’t understand the concept of writing sibling rivalry in terms of “Cooties” and calling each other names. My siblings and I fought a lot, but there was no fundamental conception of each other as a “dweeb” or “Sisterus Dorkus” or anything else for that matter. We were who we were, and we were too young to try and quantify that with name-calling.

The other teams are: the Holts – a family of people built like “Neanderthals” (book’s words, not mine), obsessed with behaving like they’re a military unit, and excelling at athletics; the Kabras – a pair of siblings the same age as Dan and Amy, but who are rich, intelligent and cunning; Alistair Oh, an older Korean man with a flair for fancy clothing and enigma; the Starlings – incredibly intelligent and capable triplets; Jonah Wizard, a child hip hop star and Irina Spasky, a former KGB agent.

Irina speaks in what I suppose is “A Russian accent” – having never heard an actual Russian accent, I cannot judge, but it does seem to be a good approximation of the accents stereotypically heard on TV. In fact, Irina’s English reminds me of Anatoly Knyazev on Arrow.


Irina isn’t the only to be typecast – Jonah Wizard and Alistair Oh are a mess as well. As a hip-hop star, Jonah frequently refers to his homies, says “yo” or “word…” The fact that he’s a spoilt, rich kid pointedly clashes with his appearance and mannerisms, all of which faithfully follow the hip-hop image. He’s eventually shown to be a fan of Shakespeare, a fact that he tries to hide because he’d “lose his street cred.” I think that’s a pretty problematic description, since it equates “hip hop” with “lack of culture” (as culture is conventionally defined). I don’t think being a hip hop artist precludes anyone from enjoying Shakespeare or other classic English literature, and to imply otherwise is super messed up. The authors are so self-satisfied with their inclusionary antics that they overlook the deeper analysis of the dynamics of racism, and subtly end up implying that somehow Shakespeare (and speaking “Standard English”) are better than hip hop and AAVE.

Similarly, Alistair Oh being Korean means he must act in as “oriental” a manner as possible.

An Asian man with a placid smile, dressed in a silk suit with white gloves and a bowler hat.
“Greetings, my elusive relatives,” purred Alistair Oh.” – One False Note, The 39 Clues #2 (Gordon Korman).

Next in this Series: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #3 – The Sword Thief




One thought on “Book Review: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #2 – One False Note

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