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Mars Patel idolizes Oliver Pruitt, a powerful tech giant who also runs Pruitt Prep. Mars and his friends Toothpick, JP, and Caddie (who may have telepathic powers!) attend H.G. Wells Middle School. When their friend Aurora goes missing, Pruitt's podcast seems to be giving clues about it. When other students start to disappear, Mars and his friends throw themselves into investigating. Mars is especially concerned because he and his mother moved from India to Puget Sound after his own father went missing. Using technology and an odd assortment of skills they have learned at their schools, the friends investigation runs them afoul of the adults in their lives, but they persevere. Since there is also high stakes testing going on at their school, the kids are stressed on several levels. Will they be able to locate Pruitt Prep and find out what is happening to students?
Good Points
There is no lack of technology, adventure, and things being set on fire, making this a sure bet for fans of spy novels like Horowitz's Stormbreaker, Butcher's Spy High or Walden'ts H.I.V.E. series. This is updated with scripts of the podcasts that Pruitt is airing, e mails, and text messages. There are plenty of clues for readers who like to follow them, but also more than enough action and adventure for students who just like to go along for the read.

The characters are all a little prickly, which made it a bit hard to connect to them, but this is not unusual with bright middle school students. There are characters like Epica, who wears a school blazer even though there isn't a school uniform, and Toothpick, who is so concerned about the GIFT test that he memorizes the back of three cereal boxes in case the test included pop culture. While the characters are all a bit misfit, they work well together and support each other.

There are a lot of books where students go missing, and the focus of these books is usually the sadness the remaining characters feel. This turns the tables and involves the students directly in the efforts to locate the missing girl. Of course, it doesn't hurt that their school is a bit odd, and has Code Red Protocols and holograms at assemblies.

Readers who enjoy drones, armored, hybridized tardigrades, and evil billionaires with diabolical intentions will want to pick up this series (The Interplanetary Expedition of Mars Patel comes out in October of 2021) as well as listen to the podcast.
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