While there are consistent themes of friendship across both books, this one branches out in several varied respects. First, there’s Archer’s chance at a relationship with the grandparents his mother has kept him away from since he was a baby. Will they be everything he’s hoped and longed for, or is there something to the rumors swirling about them? There is the mid-book addition of a possible new female member to Archer’s trio of friends. And then there’s the difficult matter of Archer’s boarding school friend and roommate—who happens to be the son of the man the Helmsley’s suspect of arranging the iceberg incident. It’s this last point where Archer is faced with the difficult task of empathizing with someone he cares for, but believes is being misled. It also presents him with an opportunity to NOT judge someone by their family ties—which is a grace he’s not being afforded by most of his own city.
On that last note, it’s worth mentioning that there is an added conflict thread involving a popular local paper that’s willing to leap to accusatory conclusions about the long-lost Helmsleys. The readiness with which most of the city’s population believe this tabloid-worthy gossip is both timely and sadly believable. It also carries alienating consequences for Archer and his friends.
As it was with the first book, Gannon’s illustrations are a tremendously artful source of charm and vintage ambiance. Whether it’s the full page or small portrait segments, black-and-white or richly colored, the detailing is distinct and affecting.
Archer’s mother is still a controlling, wretched, and borderline emotionally abusive source of side antagonism on the outskirts of the main plot. And unfortunately, we aren’t privileged with much by way of character growth in her, or the reasoning behind why she’s so uncaring toward her own parents. But at the same time, she is perhaps a broad-stroke example to young readers of an irrational and callous misuse of parental authority.
Ultimately this seems a more complex story, but one that’s been executed with the same deft quality as the first book in the series.