The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin

I vividly remember the cover of the 1989 Puffin paperback edition of this book, which I suspect I checked out of the library multiple times. I’m not sure what made me think of it recently, but I decided it might be fun to re-read, and it was: I remembered parts of the story but had forgotten others, and there are definitely some things in this book that I find funny now that I wouldn’t have noticed as a kid. (Like this exchange: “If Mr. Kunkel’s father worked so hard for the business, he should have owned part of it, too,” “Tony said. “Young man, you know nothing about business,” Mr. Banks said uneasily. “What do they teach you at that school, anyway? Socialism?”)

Anyway: this is a silly/bonkers mystery where you very much have to suspend disbelief (there are so many coincidences in the way the paths of characters cross!) but if you aren’t looking for realism, it’s a fun romp. When the book opens we meet Caroline Carillon, née Fish, and her next-door neighbor, Leon. Her parents are tomato farmers; his are potato farmers; together they hit on the idea of “pomato soup,” which ends up making them a fortune. Caroline and Leon’s parents make them get married when she’s 5 and he’s 7 (because it’s the only way they can think of to settle their argument about what their soup should be called), but then Leon is sent to boarding school because their parents have decided to keep them apart until Leon is 21. Leon writes to Caroline every year on their wedding anniversary, then tells her to meet him at a hotel, once he’s 21. Things happen, and the reunion doesn’t go as Caroline was thinking it would. At the end of it, she wakes up in a hospital after a boat accident, and Leon—or rather, Noel (he changed his name while he was at school) is nowhere to be found.

Caroline’s quest to find Noel becomes all-consuming and decade-spanning, though she doesn’t have very much to go on. She decides, for example, to eat only at Chinese restaurants, because one of his anniversary messages said that he liked wonton soup. Along the way, she ends up adopting two eleven-year-old twins named Tina and Tony, and all of them try to figure out the mystery of the “glub-blubs” – which is the last thing she heard in the midst of the boat accident. I definitely liked the word game/puzzle aspect of this when I was a kid, and I still do—and I probably appreciate the now-vintage NYC setting for a big chunk of the book more than I ever did back then.






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