Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy is a riveting follow up in Frances Schoonmaker’s Sid Johnson series; a powerful message packaged in a page turning adventure!
Set in the wild and perilous West of the 1850s, the book follows Sid Johnson, a teenage boy who must deliver a mysterious letter and rescue his sister from a ruthless enemy. Sometime after the events of The Phantom Slave Stealer, a man named William Gallagher entrusts Sid with a letter that he claims is very important and must be delivered to his wife in Santa Fe. Sid sets off on his journey and, along the way, encounters many challenges, such as hostile wagoners, illness, and more. He learns about the history and culture of the Kanza Nation, whose land and people are being threatened by the expansion of the white settlers. Before long, Sid realizes that his letter is not just a simple message, but a key to a hidden treasure and a secret conspiracy that could change the course of history. He also discovers that he is not the only one who knows about it, and that someone is willing to do anything to get it from him. When his sister is kidnapped, Sid must use all of his courage, wit, and resourcefulness to save her and complete his mission. Frances Schoonmaker does a remarkable job of creating a vivid sense of place with rich, historically accurate descriptions of the landscapes, the people, and the events of the time. She portrays the book’s diverse cast of complex characters with depth and nuance. One of the standout features of the book is Schoonmaker’s ability to offer a satisfying next chapter to Sid’s character development, whereby he learns even more about the horrors of the world and grows in the face of them in a way that is not repetitive of the first book. Schoonmaker continues to explore complex moral questions as they relate to some of the more shameful parts of our history without overshadowing the importance of strong characters and an engaging story and, equally important, in a way that is age appropriate. Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy has a strong balance of humor and warmth against its more emotional and touching moments. Readers will be excited to learn what happens next for these characters and, because we already care about them, invested in the story’s more harrowing moments. This allows us to more easily digest the more thematically heavy components of the book rather than feeling like we’ve been spoonfed the author’s thoughts and opinions. Of course, Schoonmaker’s very visual, very authentic style of prose also goes a long way in keeping the reader grounded in the book’s plot. Sid Johnson and the Well-Intended Conspiracy is a captivating tale that blends adventure and drama, humor and heart; a great read for middle grade students and fans of historical fiction, westerns, mysteries, and action.