When Ren sees her mom heading out to dinner with that creep Rick Littleton, she's furious. How could her mom do that to her dad, a soldier stuck over in Afghanistan? Ren decides to run away to the school-turned-boardinghouse in the next town over. Once there, she makes friends with a boy named Hugh, who tells her that the boardinghouse is the site of a mystery. Every night, the owner, Ms. Baxter, searches for a treasure left in the building years ago. If Ms. Baxter can't find it, then the boarding house might shut down for good, and her dream of preserving the town's history by opening a pearl button museum will never come true. By the time Ren, Hugh, and other visitors help find the treasure-a bag of pearls-Ren and her mom also have found a way to forgive each other.
After Ren catches her mother flirting with another man (Ren's father is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan), the 12-year-old runs away to a dilapidated school turned boardinghouse in Fortune, a virtual ghost town on the Mississippi River. There, she finds strange characters and an irresistible mystery. Former beauty queen Hildy Baxter, the establishment's elderly owner, is eager to chronicle Fortune's history by opening a pearl button museum, if only she can find the treasure box her brother hid years ago. Assisting Hildy is Mayor Joy, his donkey, and jack-of-all-trades Garrett, who is building a labyrinth of shells in the backyard. Together with friends Hugh and Tucker, Ren helps with the museum and searches for Hildy's lost treasure, despite threats of closure. Ren's confusion over her parents' troubled relationship is lovingly handled through Ray's whimsical characters and heartfelt moments between Ren and her mother. Ray (Here Lies Linc) expertly incorporates the forgotten history of shell harvesting towns along the Mississippi in an absorbing and well-written story that recalls Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie. Ages 10 12.