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Young Whit & the Traitor’s Treasure — “Young Whit” Series


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Book Review

Young Whit & the Traitor’s Treasure by Phil Lollar and Dave Arnold has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Young Whit” series.

Plot Summary

In the 1930s during the Great Depression, soon-to-be 10-year-old Johnny Whittaker arrives in the small town of Provenance, North Carolina. His father, Harold, is a professor at nearby Duke University. Johnny’s mother died from smallpox five years earlier when they still lived in Scotland. His father is remarried to a Scottish woman named Fiona, Johnny’s stepmother.

The precocious Johnny, who could read The Hound of the Baskervilles at age 4 and has skipped a grade in school because of his academic achievements, has inherited an old trunk from his maternal grandfather; it had once belonged to Johnny’s great-grandfather. A source of contention between Johnny and his father is that this trunk was bequeathed to Johnny, not to Harold.

The trunk contains mementos of his mother and other items his grandfather — before he died — had told him he was too young to understand. Among the many things the trunk holds is a mysterious bundle of rags tied with string. Johnny remembers it as being very important to his mother and grandfather, but he doesn’t know why.

Johnny navigates the challenges of a new school and two bullies named Wilson and Arty. He researches the lives of his ancestors from the Civil War era for a history assignment. He makes new friends with neighbor and classmate, Emmy, and the school custodian, Ben, who helps him tackle his increasing number of problems.

From two family Bibles, Johnny learns that his ancestors fought on both sides of the war. His paternal great-grandfather fought for the Union, and his maternal great-granduncle, G.W. McClintock, fought for the Confederacy. In making his presentation on his family tree for history class, Johnny tells of G.W.’s accomplishments as a lieutenant.

When he concludes, the class reacts with silence, then shunning. No one, except Emmy, will talk to him or sit with him. When Wilson assaults him for being related to G.W., a town traitor, Johnny learns that Wilson’s great-grandfather, Capt. Thaddeus Knox, is a town hero for trying to save the gold from G.W. There is a painting of the scene in the town hall.

Johnny researches the event and learns that G.W. is in fact infamous as the traitor who stole the Confederacy’s gold as he and Thaddeus were transporting it to pay the troops. The story is that they buried it behind the Granville house to keep it from the Yankees. When Thaddeus saw that the Yankees outnumbered their regiment, he argued with G.W. to recover the gold and flee.

After the war, when Thaddeus returned to dig up the gold, it was no longer there. Everyone assumed G.W., the coward, stole it. The gold was never found.

Finding this account inconsistent with what he knows of G.W.’s character through his inherited letters, Johnny decides that finding the gold is the only way to disprove the story and clear his family’s name.

The next day, a note from an anonymous person turns up in Johnny’s mailbox. It invites Johnny and Emmy to the Granville house, where they encounter Ben, who has followed them there. He wants to tell what he knows about the stolen gold.

He tells them that his granddaddy, Thaddeus’ slave, witnessed the events surrounding the disappearance of the gold and that it was Thaddeus who was the coward. Ben tells them that his granddaddy dug up the gold and hid it in a different location, and he also knows where the clues are to find the gold and restore the Whittaker name. However, it involves breaking into the records department at the town hall.

Under the cover of night, Ben and Johnny go to the town hall’s basement and find a photo album in the old town records. It contains clues in the form of a riddle that might help them locate the gold. Deputy Miller, on night patrol, shows up because he saw a flashlight beam coming from the basement window. Ben distracts the deputy by sprinting through the front entrance of the building. The deputy pursues him, and Johnny escapes with the photo album through the back door.

Ben earns 90 days in jail for being there. Johnny feels terrible that Ben is arrested, but since Ben sacrificed himself so Johnny can find the truth, he remains committed to doing just that. Johnny and Emmy spend weeks working to solve the riddle’s clues. Eventually, the two children figure it out and meet in an open, woodsy area behind the Granville house. Locals call it Lovers’ Circle.

Wilson and Arty show up, too. But suddenly a man in a hooded cloak with a dagger and rope bursts onto the scene and grabs Emmy by the throat while holding a dagger to her chest. Arty faints. When Emmy elbows the man, his hood falls off. The man is Wilson’s Uncle Milo, who has frequented the old house for years to make everyone think Thaddeus’ ghost haunts it.

In the ensuing argument, Wilson learns from his uncle that Thaddeus was really the coward and traitor. Milo, the town’s records clerk, had overheard Johnny and Emmy talking about the clues. That convinced him that they knew where the gold was hidden. He wants Johnny to tell him where it is. If he doesn’t, Milo threatens to hurt Emmy.

When Wilson attempts to defend Emmy, Milo knocks him unconscious with the butt of his dagger handle. Milo has Johnny tie up Wilson and Arty. He then ropes Johnny and Emmy together so they can’t run away. The trio heads to the clock tower at the town hall, where the last clue leads them.

The trio enters through the back of the abandoned tower. Milo unties them so they can better ascend the rotting spiral staircase to the clock room. When Milo threatens to shove his dagger into Johnny, Emmy attacks Milo with an iron bar she found leaning against a wall. The attack causes Milo to fall through the hatch and crash through the stairs. Just then the deputy arrives with the kids’ parents.

With the stairs broken from Milo’s fall, Johnny and Emmy wait in the clock room to be rescued. While waiting, they figure out the last clue that comes from the Bible verse Mark 12:30. Once they are lowered through the center of the tower and reach ground, Johnny unearths the treasure that was buried under the tower.

G.W. McClintock is hailed as the town’s hero, instead of being a traitor, mainly due to the eyewitness account from Ben’s granddaddy who saw Thaddeus fight with G.W. over taking the gold and running from the Yankees. Thaddeus shot G.W., and then left with his regiment as the Yankees closed in.

Fearful that Thaddeus would return later to steal the gold, Ben’s granddaddy, assuming G.W. was dead, later returned, dug up the gold and hid it under the clock tower. He hoped to give it to G.W. if he returned, but he never saw him again. Johnny negotiates with the deputy to get Ben released from jail. He rationalizes that since the photo album was a public record, he didn’t really steal it. They settle on having Johnny use his summer vacation to organize the loose boxes of records in the town hall basement.

The epilogue raises a new mystery when Johnny overhears his father and a colleague discussing an ancient piece of cloth mentioned in an old, lost journal. It has great powers to heal instantly and extend life. Johnny wonders if the journal and the cloth from his inherited trunk are these items.

Christian Beliefs

Fiona talks about God and tells Johnny that she prays for him. There are two family Bibles in the household. Johnny’s family attends Sunday worship services, and the pastor preaches on the greatest commandments and the blood of Jesus. Johnny is reluctant to hear talk of “God stuff” from Fiona as well as attending church. But later he comes to appreciate what he’s learned in sermons since it helps him solve a riddle.

Other Belief Systems

Some of the locals believe ghosts inhabit the old Granville house.

Authority Roles

Harold Whittaker is an imposing father, and Johnny often fears disappointing him. Johnny notes when Harold is in a good mood, suggesting that he often isn’t. Harold lies to a colleague to protect Johnny and Emmy from being known as the source of a mysterious writing. Fiona, Johnny’s stepmother, can be stern, but she also cares for Johnny and is understanding of the stresses he endures with the loss of his mother, grandparents and friends on account of the move. She often talks to Johnny about God and how He helps her. She agrees to keep Johnny’s problem with the bullies a secret from his father, unless it worsens.

Johnny’s biological mother has been gone for five years; he misses her and remembers that she would have been a guiding voice for many of his problems.

Ben Huck, the school custodian, befriends Johnny and gives him advice. Ben’s words reinforce ideas that Johnny’s parents have taught him. Though a positive authority figure for Johnny, he does help Johnny illegally enter the town hall records center and earns jail time for it.

Profanity & Violence

A couple of crass nicknames are used for a school bully: Arty-Farty and pee pants. Johnny uses his karate skill on a couple of boards to intimidate the school bully. The school bully and his pals jump Johnny one day and punch him in the stomach twice, causing Johnny to vomit.

Wilson’s Uncle Milo hits Wilson on the head with a dagger handle, causing him to fall unconscious. Wilson is later diagnosed with a mild concussion.

Wilson’s Uncle Milo, the “ghost,” grabs Emmy by the throat and holds a dagger to her chest. Emmy hits Milo with an iron bar, once in the kidneys and then again in the temple, causing him to plummet several levels down the rotted stairs of the clock tower. Blood oozes from a dog when Johnny accidentally stabs it with a sword.

Sexual Content

There are undertones of attraction when Wilson tries to be charming with Emmy; Emmy grabs Johnny’s hand in fear, then blushes.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at

Additional Comments

Halloween: Emmy invites Johnny to go trick or treating with her friends followed by a Halloween party at her house. Johnny says his parents think Halloween celebrates the wrong things, but he thinks they’ll let him go to the party.

Literary references: J. M. Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of the Four, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.