“The Gemini Thief could be anyone. Your father, your mother, your best friend’s crazy uncle. … Someone is stealing Tennessee’s boys. Report suspicious behavior.” That’s the ominous message proclaimed by billboards in Wildwood, Kentucky, just across the Tennessee state line and the setting of Court Stevens’ latest young adult mystery, The June Boys.
The Gemini Thief has an unusual MO for a kidnapper: abducting only boys, three at a time but all from different cities, only on the first day of June, and never for ransom. The victims come from all over the state of Tennessee and, most surprisingly, they are always released unharmed on the last day of June — of the following year. Over a 10-year period, 12 boys are taken, but the kidnapper, who always wears an identity-obscuring welding helmet, occasionally skips a year or two.
It’s another missing person who concerns high school senior Thea Delacroix, though: her popular, fun-loving cousin, Aulus. He’s like a brother to Thea, and her life just isn’t the same without him. “The day after the police found Aulus’ car,” she explains, “I willed him to call. This is all a huge mistake, he’d say. Months passed before I adjusted to his absence. Phantom barbells clanked in the garage for weeks. How many tickets? Four. No, three. Table or booth? Will someone else be joining you? Yes. No.”
But Aulus doesn’t fit the victim profile of the Gemini Thief. He’s from Kentucky, disappeared on June 2, and would make a fourth victim that year — the unlucky 13th in the series. In May of the following year, when they hear that a boy’s body has been found nearby, Thea and her boyfriend, Nick, race to the scene. Nick’s sister Dana is an FBI agent who is working the case, and she allows Thea to see that it’s not her cousin but one of the known victims. Inside the boy’s mouth, Dana finds a keychain belonging to Aulus, confirming that he was taken by the Gemini Thief after all. But the keychain may hold a further message for investigators because Thea has one just like it.
Thea’s father, a single parent, is a bit eccentric — if you call pouring all his money and free time into secretly building a castle in the middle of a forest (because God told him to) eccentric. (Nick suggests “certifiable.”) Most troubling to Thea is that he lied to her about it — for years — before coming clean and giving her and Aulus keys to “Castle Delacroix” on matching keychains. She can’t believe that her father would hurt Aulus, who is like a son to him, but the evidence suddenly seems to point in his direction.
Thea and her friends gather regularly at the local community center to comb through clues and discuss theories. They are determined to identify the Gemini Thief and find their friend, but Thea knows that may also mean proving her father’s guilt. “Say what you want about my dad,” Thea admits, “he’s got vision and tenacity. I’ve loved those qualities, coveted them, but now … they feel like shadows on a moonlit walk. Maybe nothing. Maybe wolves.”
Stevens (whose previous novels were published under the name Courtney) provides plenty of juicy red herrings along the way and ratchets up the suspense by giving readers poignant glimpses into the daily lives of the captives. It soon becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong with the kidnapper’s plans and the boys are in a desperate situation. Thea must solve the puzzle, no matter who is to blame, and save her beloved cousin before they all run out of time. The whole situation feels like a nightmare — or a fairy tale. “Long ago, fairy tales taught me that dark people and places in this world exist,” Thea says. “None of those stories told me there’d come a day when I’d count the lock on my door as a cruel irony. Because here’s the real truth: you can’t keep darkness out if he has a key.”
Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.