The Loch Ness Monster. The Frogman. Bigfoot. Twelve-year-old Miranda Cho used to believe in it all, used to love poring over every strange footprint, every stray hair, everything that proved that the world was full of wonders. But that was before her mother’s obsession with monsters cost Miranda her friends and her perfect school record, before Miranda found the stack of unopened bills and notices of foreclosure in the silverware drawer. Now the fact that her mom’s a cryptozoologist doesn’t seem wonderful — it’s embarrassing and irresponsible, and it could cost them everything. So Miranda agrees to go on one last creature hunt, determined to use all her scientific know-how to prove to her mother, once and for all, that Bigfoot isn’t real. Then her mom will have no choice but to grow up and get a real job — one that will pay the mortgage and allow Miranda to attend the leadership camp of her dreams. But when the trip goes horribly awry, will it be Miranda who’s forced to question everything she believes?
- Title: The Bigfoot Files
- Author: Lindsay Eagar
- Cover Artist: Matt Roeser
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- ISBN: 0763692344
- Publication Date: September 19, 2018
- For Ages: 10-14
- Category: Middle Grade
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 😿 Spooky-Sad.
- Content Warnings: trichotillomania
I’d like to thank Candlewick Press for providing a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
“What if?” can be one of the cruelest questions in the world to someone living with anxiety, a simple two-word phrase that propels you down a hallway lined with doors that either open to increasingly dire circumstances or that just don’t open at all, leaving you pounding your fists to get out even though you know there’s no escape. But there’s another side to “What if?”…a wondrous, free, and open-hearted side that lets you turn your face to the sun and believe in the possibility of hope and magic. The Bigfoot Files examines both aspects of this universal question, and when it ultimately chooses the side of magic and wonder, it leaves the reader determined to keep their face to the sun for as long as they can.
Miranda Cho is a self-described overachiever, a brilliant seventh-grader who meticulously tracks her perfect grades and her perfect extracurriculars in an endless series of to-do lists so that she can attend a prestigious student leadership camp in Washington, D.C. Her mother Kat is the exact opposite of what Miranda wants in a parent. Kat runs a cryptozoology blog (the titular Bigfoot Files), drives a vehicle called the Critter Mobile that sounds like something out of Sid and Marty Krofft’s nightmares, and seems unbothered by the fact that her frequent work trips are jeopardizing Miranda’s school term credits. When Miranda discovers that Kat has been ignoring all their bills, including the ones that say “Foreclosure Notice” in big red letters, she comes up with a plan to turn her mother into the kind of mom she wants: a normal, sensible one with a real job. To accomplish this, Miranda heads out to the forest for one last cryptid hunt to prove to her mother once and for all that Bigfoot isn’t real.
The central theme of the novel is faith. Not religious faith, but faith in yourself, faith in those who love you, and faith in the existence of magic in the world. Author Lindsay Eagar doesn’t believe in blind faith, though. Miranda’s dad left when she was five, and he is just as elusive as Kat’s beloved Sasquatch. He never contacts his daughter or shows any interest in her life, but Miranda holds out hope that he’s out there loving her and waiting for her. It’s heartbreaking to see Miranda, who used to believe so fervently in all of Kat’s cryptid stories, close herself off to the possibility of wonder in the world because her father shows her every day that hope is a foolish, painful thing.
Kat tries to show Miranda just the opposite — she wants her daughter to see magic everywhere, by leaving milk on the windowsill every night as an offering to fairies and viewing footprints in mud as evidence of wild undiscovered species. But in Miranda’s mind, Kat has done more than Miranda’s father has to eliminate the possibility of hope in her life. One day, Kat does something so embarrassing and socially unacceptable to Miranda’s best friend Emma that Miranda can’t bear to speak to her again. There are subtle sapphic overtones to Miranda’s feelings toward Emma, and it’s clear to me that Miranda didn’t just lose her best friend that day; she also lost her first love.
It’s no wonder, then, that Miranda is dealing with anxiety. She’s under tremendous pressure at school, her father has abandoned her, her mother’s irresponsibility is threatening her academic achievements and her home, and she’s lost the girl she loves. Miranda sleeps very little, trying to wrangle her chaotic life into submission via her phone organizer and to-do lists, and when she feels especially stressed out she pulls her hair out one strand at a time. She does it so often that she has a small bald patch on one side of her head. It’s a realistic, empathetic portrait of childhood anxiety, and once again your heart breaks for Miranda. All of Eagar’s characters are spectacularly well-realized — you know from the very first page exactly who these people are — and none more so than Miranda. She’s an incredible girl, and you feel for her throughout every beat of the book.
The strong sense of empathy that Eagar builds makes Miranda’s discovery of magic and enchantment in the forest that much sweeter and more liberating for the reader. The Bigfoot Files may not make you want to camp out in the woods and search for Sasquatch, but it will make you feel like there’s a little more light and a little more wonder in the world than you thought there was before you picked up the book. With devastatingly gorgeous prose and unique, well-drawn characters, this middle grade novel will make you smile, turn your face to the sun, and ask yourself, “What if?”
There is so much magic in the world, and this book is prime evidence of that fact. I give it 4.5 out of 5 coffins.