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Book Review

One False Note by Gordon Korman has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the "39 Clues" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. The winners will even have the power to change the course of history. The orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan (age 11), lack the wealth and notoriety that many of their competing relatives already possess, but they're determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In this installment, Dan and Amy travel to Vienna because of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart clue and visit several locations where the composer lived. They discover that Mozart's sister, Nannerl, kept a diary and two pages are missing. Searching for Nannerl's grave, they spot both their Uncle Alistair (a family competitor) and a stranger they've seen before known only as the man in black. When they follow extended family member Jonah and his father into a music store, it turns out to be the secret gateway to the Jonas lair. (Jonas is one of four competing branches of the Cahill family, the branch to which Jonah belongs.) In the elaborate art gallery that is their hideout, Dan and Amy narrowly escape with the two missing pages from Nannerl's diary. Pursued by Jonah, as well as competing relatives Ian and Natalie Kabra from another Cahill branch, the kids hide the pages on a boat they pass. Once they retrieve the pages, their au pair (nanny), Nellie, translates a German clue that leads them to a museum containing an old harpsichord once played by Mozart. When they play a Mozart composition on the instrument, a trap door opens revealing two Samurai swords. They decide to continue their quest in Tokyo, where the steel was forged.

Christian Beliefs

Several characters use the phrase Thank G-- when they're relieved that a situation has worked to their advantage. As Dan attempts to get away from the Janus clan by boat, he says all he can do is pray. The catacombs where Nannerl is buried have biblical passages on the walls.

Other Belief Systems

A few times, Dan and Amy use the word miracle to describe a human act or device that gets them out of a tight spot.

Authority Roles

Dan and Amy's parents died in a fire years earlier. Dan and Amy are on the run from the mean aunt who serves as their guardian. Their au pair, Nellie, is barely an adult herself and acts as their companion as they search for clues. Nellie can drive and plays the token adult for the Cahill kids, but they primarily tell her what they're going to do next, and she complies. Jonah's father, Irina Spasky (a former KGB agent and Cahill relative) and the Holt parents (Eisenhower and Mary-Todd) look out only for themselves or their immediate family members. They pursue, threaten and bargain with Dan and Amy with no regard for the kids' youth or the fact that they're family. Alistair is the only grown-up with any concern for the children. His conscience bothers him when he fears he's injured rather than simply scared them by setting off an explosion in the catacombs, and he says he'd never forgive himself if something bad happened to Grace's grandkids.


The word butt appears several times. Nellie uses God's name in vain once or twice. Though no swear words appear in the text, a group of Benedictine monks curse Dan when he steals from them. Alistair curses Grace for pitting family members against each other with her contest. Dan makes a rude gesture in the direction of a competitor's boat.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: On the yacht where Dan and Amy have hidden the lost pages from Nannerl's diary, the kids watch members of a wedding party toast with champagne.

Online component: Numerous relatives, both living competitors and famous historical figures, constitute the complex genealogy of the Cahill family in this series. Readers can learn more about the rival Cahill branches and discover additional clues online. Kids also are encouraged to collect the game cards that come with the books, and they can win cash and prizes for solving clues.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Gordon Korman






Record Label



Scholastic, Inc.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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