The Pittsburgh-set young adult novel opens at the fictional Moorland High School library. Our protagonist, Mark, finds three crisp hundred dollar bills in the library’s copy of Great Expectations. Along with the money is a note from a mysterious benefactor inviting Mark on a scavenger hunt that takes him all over the city—a steel mill in Braddock, the observatory on the North Side, an abandoned church in East Liberty. As the clues become more difficult to solve, the amount of money that Mark is rewarded increases. Eventually, the clues request that he enlist the help of a “co-quester,” someone of the opposite sex and with whom he is not already friends. I remember the ending confused me when I was a high schooler reading it. I won’t spoil it, but it still confused me, almost ten years later.
Just the dreamy quality of the title has stuck with me ever since I read it in high school. It’s possible that part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I know every location mentioned, from Highland Park to Morningside. I instantly wanted to go to each place and dig for buried treasure. Maybe I’ll reread it with a pen and paper handy to map out each site go on my own scavenger hunt. It’s almost like if John Green’s Paper Towns had been set in Pittsburgh.
Reading it now, however, gives me another added delight as CLP – Main is featured heavily as a place Mark goes to research and decipher the clues left behind by the benefactor. The Pennsylvania Department and CLP – South Side make appearances as well.
Aside from the mystery aspect of the book, it also serves as a mini-history lesson; it touches on all aspects of Pittsburgh’s past, from the Homestead Steel Strike to the life of John Brashear to the story of Katherine Soffel and Ed and Jack Biddle, which was popularized in the 1984 movie Mrs. Soffel.
Published in 1996, some of the book is dated (there’s a Michael Jordan reference). If it were published today, Mark could just search Google—or any of our fine databases—to solve the clues. But I liked the fact that he had to do physical research. He is assisted by a friendly librarian—is there really any other kind?—cleverly named Mrs. Harbinger.
As far as young adult novels set in Pittsburgh, I’d rank it behind The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Still, it’s a quick read and it’s the perfect book to elevate a boring Monday to another kind of Monday.
Have you read the book or do you have a favorite Pittsburgh-set young adult novel? Let us know in the comments!