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The Missing Persons League

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Worried about his mother's and sister's disappearance, Brian Foster places a newspaper ad, which attracts sinister Lieutenant Atticus of the Environmental Police, and writes a letter, which brings a reply from Charles Dickens

157 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1976

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About the author

Frank Bonham

107 books14 followers
Frank Bonham (February 25, 1914 – 1988) was an author of Westerns and young adult novels. Bonham wrote 48 novels, as well as TV scripts. Bonham was born in Los Angeles. He was a UCLA graduate. Bonham was known for his works for young adults written in the 1960s, with tough, realistic urban settings, including The Nitty Gritty and Durango Street, as well as for his westerns. Several of his works have been published posthumously, many of which were drawn from his pulp magazine stories, originally published between 1941 and 1952. Durango Street was an ALA Notable Book.

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5 stars
101 (44%)
4 stars
82 (36%)
3 stars
36 (15%)
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5 (2%)
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2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Annia Ciezadlo.
Author 5 books66 followers
May 31, 2011
I read this book as a kid and have been haunted by it ever since. The 60s/70s/early 80s were full of sci-fi dystopian worlds that a kid could dive into: Philip K. Dick, Madeleine L'Engle, that creepily familiar-yet-alien magical realist school in The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids, where the teachers force the kids into something called the Status Quo Machine. But Bonham draws this future with such specificity that it seemed entirely plausible: world food shortages; an America where real food is only for the ultra-elite, and everybody else has to subsist on processed by-products; a few food guerrillas grow corn and tomatoes in their basements, with fluorescent gro-lites, like marijuana. Sound familiar? Decades later, Bonham's disturbing vision of real food as a forbidden luxury seems eerily prescient.
Profile Image for Molly.
610 reviews
August 15, 2011
This may have been my first dystopian novel. I checked it out repeatedly from my elementary school library.
Based on my memories of it, untainted by an adult rereading, it ranks as my second favorite dystopian book ever. I can't believe it was written in the '70s and I read it in the '80s and it's totally spot-on about where the planet is headed in terms of food production and vegetation.
(In case you're wondering, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin is my favorite dystopian story.)
Profile Image for SpringLea Henry.
9 reviews1 follower
May 5, 2012
One of my most beloved books! I've read this one probably 50 times since the mid-80s when I discovered it. My wish is to someday track down the rights and put it back into print. :)
141 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2011
I read this book with 7th - 9th graders dozens of times over the years. It is a perfect adolescent novel . . . adventure, social consciousness, romance. Frank Bonham wrote this, I believe in the 1970's, predicting what life would be like in the early 2000's. I think he did a remarkable job, as many science fictions writers have done. I can't count the number of past students who call me or run into me and ask me, "What was the name of that book we read together . . . it was my favorite book I ever read!" Too bad it's out of print. :)
Profile Image for Laura.
132 reviews5 followers
March 17, 2013
got it on Amazon'! I aggree with the person who said that they wanted the rights to put this book back in print. I read this book when I was younger & forgot the title but never forgot the story, then saw it mentioned in a discussion & was so thrilled to find it again. awesome story
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,271 reviews398 followers
June 17, 2019
Avl. on openlibrary.org. Surprisingly good, but not perfect.

Even naive child me would have doubted that the Frankenfoods would have tasted so terrible... think for example of the artificial crap we happily eat now just because it has salt or other seasonings and maybe it's even touted as a new 'superfood.' But the orange air low in oxygen... I totally would have believed that. And the characters are fun (including the variety of adults, and Taurus the atypical bully), and the mystery is fun (including references to Dickens, the Beagle, etc.), and the drama is vivid.

Recommended to those who who are intrigued and who can hush their inner cynic, especially youngsters 9-13 or so who aren't spoiled by too much shiny pseudo-sophisticated modern media. I will consider more by the author.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,622 reviews128 followers
May 18, 2019
A year ago, Brian Fosters mother and sister Debbie vanished while the family were out picnicking. Brian's father seems disinclined to be too worried or to report them missing, but Brian himself is desperate to find out what happened to them.

This is the start of a book that takes us on a great ride through a future (not that far in the future now, perhaps) where the air is so toxic that cylinders of oxygen are placed around Brian's school in case people exert themselves. The seas are foul, food is completely processed and in poor supply and the land is poisoned, but more importantly to Brian, people are going missing. Together with a mysterious girl who is transferred to his class, whose parents have also gone missing, they try to figure out what is happening.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, I actually first encountered it as an adult, but it is a good enough classic science fiction theme that reading a kid's book was no hardship, and I re-read it again often now.

When I say 'kid's book' I mean that it was intended for children at the time of publishing. The two protagonists are teenagers, and act like them except that the obligatory romance and angst that are included these days in YA books are thankfully absent. Brian and Heather do form a relationship, but it is not a factor of the plot.

The only way in which I feel this does come across as a 'young' book is that the conclusion is somewhat simplistic and the bad guys a trifle stereotypical. Other than that, I find it a very thoughtful novel in that it was published in the 70's yet could clearly see environmental consequences. I think it is a great story, and if it has dated quite a bit in some ways (no mobile phones - Imagine!) in other ways it has weathered the decades really well.

I would recommend it to lovers of classic science fiction.
Profile Image for Matthew Budman.
Author 3 books53 followers
January 22, 2021
It's been 35+ years since I last picked up a copy of The Missing Persons League, and upon rereading I was amazed how much has stuck with me—character names, dialogue, specific descriptions. Also amazed that the novel is so dark: By page 2, we've learned that teenage protagonist Brian, like everyone else here, takes tranquilizers just to get through each day, that everyone's nerves are on edge, that society is basically collapsing even apart from the unexplained disappearances.

As in many other dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels, government agents are omnipresent, but here they don't seem to care what people think or say—their primary concern, in an oxygen-deprived world where most food is algae-based, appears to be resource allocation. They're just trying to keep everything from falling all the way apart. (In some ways, the novel reminded me of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, which I read a few months ago and is similarly set in a teetering Southern California.)

The magic trick that Frank Bonham pulls off in The Missing Persons League is keeping the book from feeling as grim as it should, considering. The dialogue flashes with sardonic humor, and we're hopeful throughout that things come out OK for Brian and his eccentric father. It's a really strong read.
Profile Image for Dree.
122 reviews39 followers
October 14, 2022
I can understand this book being interesting and unique at the time it was written. Unfortunately I found it not terribly engaging- by the end I had lost a lot of interest, and didn't even really know what was happening. For 70s/80s dystopian novels - Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien is a better book by far.
Profile Image for Madelyn.
Author 16 books169 followers
July 7, 2009
I don't think this is even in print any more, but I read this SO many times as a kid I had to add it here. It was my first introduction to fantasy/sci fi. Before Wrinkle in Time. Before anything by Ursula Le Guin. I'm not sure I would have gone on to the others had I not read this one first. (And okay, it's been a few years since I read it, and the 5 is mostly for nostalgia. But any book that could lead you to Wrinkle in Time is worth a 5, don't you think? I HAVE read it as an adult...)
419 reviews35 followers
November 1, 2017
This book dates from 1976. It is one of the earlier young adult sf disaster novels. The Earth is dying from pollution. The air is so foul people keep oxygen canisters in their homes. Except for the elite, real food is rare and malnourishment common.

It is a bit dated in some aspects. However, the two main characters---Brian and Hester are well developed. There is a good bit of suspense.

Recommended for younger sf readers---age 10 on up. Acceptable for adults----but not very deep--a quick easy read.
Profile Image for Joel.
444 reviews4 followers
June 6, 2008
I have an aunt who delights in sending me classic science fiction novels I have never heard of.

Last night I read "The Missing Persons League" by Frank Bonham. The copyright is listed as 1976; the book reads like a Heinlein juvenile, with all the good and bad that that entails.

Brian and his father are living in a post-environmental-catastrophe ridden earth, where all food is property of the state and emergency oxygen canisters are everywhere. Brian's mother and sister disappeared a year ago, just going for a walk one day and never coming back. Now, Brian has begun to put together clues to their disappearance, all the while trying to hide his activities from the authorities and to understand his strange new friend Heather.

The writing is fast and smooth. There are several passages where a word or phrase is explained for the presumed young adults reading the novel. And the story is a little predictable. However, clues to the fate of the mother and sister are interwoven throughout the story, leading an adult reader to the answer long before the book ends. Having said that, had I read this book as a child, I think it would have created the desire to hit the science books to learn more about the ideas presented in the story. And isn't that one of the best things a juvenile sf book can do?
Profile Image for Deenur.
4 reviews
April 3, 2022
I'm not surprised about the low number of reviews for this book. It's a well-written, but obscure piece of dystopia from my grade school days.

My mom was super-cool about buying books. I got really excited when the Scholastic order form came around in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. I would take it home hoping to hear "yes". She always said I could get two or three. I was giddy. I loved to read. One of my Scholastic purchases was this book. I probably read it cover to cover 20 times.

The protagonist finds part of his family missing, and has to put the puzzle pieces together to find them. Bonham was great at world building, giving me my first experience with dystopia, a genre favorite that stick to me with this day, for both books and movies. Yeah, the characterization doesn't have much depth (I was 12, I didn't care), but the plotting was solid and Bonham set a hook deep in me, instigating my love of dystopia. If you can find it, read it. If you can, but it!
Profile Image for Terry.
857 reviews37 followers
October 26, 2009
When I ordered this from a Scholastic Book club in the late seventies, my elementary school self wasn't quite ready to skip my issue of Dynamite magazine for a full-length science fiction novel. A few years later, I pulled it off the shelf and really enjoyed it. By then, I'd read Robert A. Heinlein and Larry Niven and enjoyed the heck out of this. Many books are post-apocalyptic; this is pre-apocalyptic, with the 'end' inevitable but not seen. One interesting flight of fancy I still remember: video game designers are highly paid. This from the age of Pong. Though not excellent, it clearly was memorable.
Profile Image for Angie Drake.
22 reviews3 followers
April 7, 2016
I found this book in a pile of Scott's old belongings from high school. Wish I would have found it sooner! This futuristic story written back in the 70's still is very appropriate for today's young teens. The main character finds unique ways to survive in a world where food is made from algae, education lacks purpose, and the government controls every thing imaginable. He finds some help along the way. You'll have to decide about what you think about the ending... is it happy? Or is it sad?
July 8, 2021
I read this book in 5th grade (I am 44 now) and it was what got me interested in sci fi. I have been looking for a copy for MANY years and was recently able to find one for a reasonable price. It is a quick read and I enjoyed it! I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys sci fi.
Profile Image for François Vigneault.
Author 20 books39 followers
February 4, 2023
This book made a gigantic impression on me when I read it as a kid, the mystery and dystopian setting really captured my imagination. I had forgotten the title, and it took me a long while to rediscover it... Very interesting to see how many of the reviews on here tell a similar tale! This seems like it was a favorite of many.

I just reread the The Missing Persons League again, perhaps 35 years later, and it's honestly not very well-written, quite clunky in fact with poor dialogue, but the central ideas are still deeply interesting in many ways. A disturbing and fairly plausible apocalyptic society on the brink (I was surprised to see that it was set in San Diego, where I grew up! No doubt that helped make it all the more interesting to me), ecological collapse, revolutionary underground farmers, a libertarian/survivalist philosophy, the bizarre machinations of fascist adults, and an odd mystery that isn't fully resolved until the final page makes this quite the page turner. The writing isn't in the same category of say, John Christopher (The Tripods) but there is plenty of fun to be had nonetheless.

I think just the fact that the plot points stuck in my mind (and the minds of so many others) for all these decades is quite a feat, so I tip my hat to Frank Bonham, who's dark vision of the future haunted a whole generation of readers!
1 review
December 3, 2022
What an absolute favorite from grade school! I was 10 when this came out in Scholastic books. I remember reading it during a rainy summer in Beaumont, TX, while elder siblings listened to Kenny Loggins's first solo album, "Celebrate Me Home." Weirdly, several tracks from that record fused in my child brain with memories of the book, a kind of synesthetic soundtrack I've never been able to shake. Whenever I listen to that beloved album today, I still have imaginative, cinematic flashes of "scenes" from the book's narrative. I'm delighted to rediscover it here and see that great cover again -- maybe someone will make the movie (already scored by Loggins, ha).
Profile Image for Melissa.
279 reviews3 followers
August 14, 2018
Read this book as a kid and loved it but couldn’t remember the title or author, only the cover. Googled and searched until I found the info and a copy on Amazon (not the same cover as my childhood version, sadly). It’s definitely a 1970s vision of the future (loads of pollution but no smartphones) but much of it still feels prescient in today’s world, particularly where climate change is concerned.

All in all, a charming little mystery with elements that lingered in my brain decades later, that was fun to relive.
Profile Image for Vicki Jaeger.
863 reviews3 followers
May 8, 2022
Had to ask Reddit for help in finding this book from my youth. I actually had the Scholastic edition (bought from a school book club flier, I'm sure), but this is the one I could find online.
I still think it held up, even 40 years later. And I didn't completely remember the end, so there were a couple of surprises waiting for me.
I'm just happy that Earth isn't in the dire shape he predicted back then!
Profile Image for Sarah Rigg.
1,618 reviews18 followers
August 23, 2019
One of a wave of dystopian YA novels from the late 70s/early 80s. I don't remember much about this book but know I enjoyed it. I mentioned it in my journal from 1986.
Profile Image for Leonie.
Author 8 books168 followers
September 16, 2013
I read this book as a teen in either the late seventies or early eighties. It was a time when the word "dystopian" was rarely in use, and I categorised this book as Sci-fi back then.

I remember the magic that kept me reading - I just had to know what happened next! The idea that "real" food was almost unknown, and that you could be prosecuted for growing it was completely foreign to me at that time. Now, with the rise of prepackaged and over processed items landing daily on our supermarket shelves, the reality of this book is approaching. In the era that this book was written, the world's population had not yet attained the three billion mark...

Frank Bonham wrote with such insight. Thirty years on, the story still haunts me.
March 25, 2017
This is an obscure, out-of-print book, so it might be a little hard to find in stores, but if you see it, GET IT NOW! It's a fantastic sci-fi novel. I read it last year, but not posting the full review until now.
This is a very creepy and mysterious novel that is a real page turner! Yes, it's pretty outdated (the book takes place hundreds of years into the future yet people still use typewriters and not-yet instant yeast, but that's not the books fault).
It's set in an apocalyptic, dystopian, kakotopian world; kind of like Divergent, but this book is a lot better than that crap!
Please read this book, it's amazing!
Profile Image for James Berghout.
54 reviews
November 30, 2017
I read this book when I was in middle school and remember enjoying it. I'm happy to find that it has aged well and is just as interesting as I remembered it. It's hard to say if my love for the book is due to it's connection to my youth. But I'm certain that even if I hadn't read it as a youth, it would still be an enjoyable read today, especially as a period piece. It speaks volumes about the worries of the 1970s.

Unfortunately the book is out of print, so it's not available on Kindle. However, it's still readily available from used book outlets online. Now all that we need is it's squeal.
1 review1 follower
April 11, 2022
There was _nothing_ else like this story around at the time.
Bonham was ahead of his time, singlehandedly warning this 9yo:
* Not to trust civilisation on face-value. Monitor for hidden agendas.
* Not to automatically trust authority but to question motive instead.
* Never to trust unempathic/unthinking adults. Ever.
* To trust Sci-Fi as a valid medium of raw Truth in the human condition.

The only book I ever considered writing to the author to beg a sequel. Now I realise Mr Bonham was leaving that to me, and you. GL.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
189 reviews8 followers
November 27, 2008
The dystopia of the Missing Persons League, set in the near future, made a strong impression on me as a young teenager. I remember today the descriptions of food--a withered apple from a machine, the geletin desert that looked like frozen blood. I'm not sure that it would resonate with today's readers, who have so many more options in the fantasy/sci-fi genre.
Profile Image for Tricia.
14 reviews
January 20, 2014
I read this book as a pre-teen and it's always haunted me. To think that people could go hungry in the modern age is almost beyond belief! (Oh yeah - that still happens...). I think this book actually started me on the path to being environmentally conscious. I definitely want my kids to read it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews

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