Hardy Boys: Deprivation House
Author: Franklin W. Dixon
Publication Date: May 2008
Lexile Level: 700-750
Did you know that they are still making Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books? I didn’t, until I was working in children’s. Yes, these teenage detectives have been brought into the 21st century, complete with cell phones and reality TV.
Deprivation House is actually the first book of the “Murder House” trilogy. I wrongly assumed that by trilogy, they meant three connected but self-contained stories. Instead, it is one story spread over three books. The last page offers a cliffhanger for the second book. This is a little disappointing, if only because there’s no reason this couldn’t be published as one book. It’s not unusual to see a 300-400 page children’s book. With a little editing, this could be a single story.
Technically, this is part of the Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers series, which is not considered part of the mainstream Hardy Boys series. It’s all the same characters, the premise is just slightly different, with the boys being part of an agency.
But we do see the Hardy Boys solve the first leg of this case. Frank and Joe go undercover on a reality TV show, to investigate death threats that have been issued to contestants. Why them? Well, after their father retired, he started American Teens Against Crime (ATAC for short). Basically a spy network for teens, for situations where teens would be more appropriate for undercover missions.
The idea seems to be to give the boys more of a spy feel. They have handy gadgets and a tech guy and the typical crap science that you see in that genre. I can understand that. With technology improving so dramatically since the 50s, it’s harder to handwave away gadgets as “they built it in their garage.”
What I can’t get behind is the fact that their mom and aunt (who lives with them) DON’T KNOW THEY’RE AGENTS. As in, their father started this agency, knows they’re a part of it…and then keeps his wife, their mother, in the dark. And the implication made by the boys is that all agents operate without the knowledge of their parents. Not only does it feel terribly misogynistic, there’s absolutely no reason for it. The boys even say that they think their mom would be okay with it. So why the secrecy? What are they going to tell these parents when their teenager dies on a mission? It just raises too many questions.
Overall, this very much feels like a Hardy Boys story of old. Aside of the technology updates, nothing else really feels updated. It’s not a bad story at all—I suspected who the criminal was, but it wasn’t glaringly obvious. It’s not a story that talks down to kids, which is nice. I may even take the time to finish the trilogy, just for a proper conclusion to the story (or I might just look it up on the Hardy Boys wiki, which is totally a thing).
If you have mystery lovers who need a solid series, don’t be afraid to fall back on this classic.