Grayson MacNeil would really like to be able to pay attention in school, get his application essay for a private school written, and get a scholarship so he can pursue a career in photography, but his family is holding him back. His father and grandfather are cryptid hunters and hoax masters who travel the globe fabricating Big Foot and sea creature sightings. Grayson and his brother Curtis often have to accompany them, and when the family gets a big contract to pull off four sea creature sightings in a short amount of time, they end up pulling a successful hoax themselves. This comes at a price-- Grayson is told that if he misses one more day of school, his scholarship application is in jeopardy. Since family finances are tight and his mother has passed away, Grayson feels like he needs to put his own needs on hold. This includes socializing with the fun and friendly Clare from his class. When he finally agrees to meet her at a bonfire party (and even buys the name brand marshmallows for s'mores), things are going great... until he hears a recording of a monster that he himself did! The teens panic and run away, but Curtis and Grayson end up in jail. The people behind the hoax? The only other big hoax masters, the Gerhard family from Germany. Clive and Axel are angry that their family didn't get the big contract, so they have decided to pull out all the stops to sabotage the MacNeils. Not only have they detained the father in Scotland and sent the grandfather off on a wild goose chase to save him, but they break into the MacNeil's property and steal all of the newest and best hoax equipment. With the adults out of the picture, it falls to the boys to pull off the one last hoax in Vermont, with less than optimal equipment. It will be a tough task, but help comes from an unlikely source. Will they be able to pull off this scam, or will the Gerhard family finally win?
Grayson was a great character, with his passion for learning and doing well in school. Curtis, whose love of the family business makes his less than enthusiastic about attending classes, is a great foil for him. The fact that the boys do okay on their own, cooking meals, successfully setting up sea monsters, and even getting out of jail by themselves, will appeal to young readers. I would have preferred that their mother were off setting up a hoax to get her out of the way, but the grandfather is such an appealing character that I am glad that he is there, trying to fill the mom sized hole with a tornado of his own energy!
I wasn't sure how I felt about the Gerhards, but I was surprised when they showed up. They are quite evil, and aren't fooling around in their attempts to take down the MacNeils. This took the novel in a direction I wasn't quite expecting, which I loved! This is the sort of book that I can always use-- it's funny, a little dark, and has plenty of unexpected adventure. Hand this to any middle grade reader who isn't quite sure what they want, other than a fantastic read!