Bringing Back Kay-Kay

Bringing Back Kay-Kay

By Author / Illustrator

Dev Kothari


Mystery & Detective

Age range(s)



Walker Books




Paperback / softback




"Without you, Kay-Kay, there's no sun, no warmth, no light. I will find you - my brother, my friend. I will find you and bring you back."

When Lena's beloved older brother goes missing at the end of summer camp, the bottom drops out of Lena's world. The police dismiss Kay-Kay's disappearance as that of just another teenage runaway, but Lena knows they are wrong. Tired of not being listened to, powerless to reach her parents through their grief and unable to imagine a future without her brother in it, Lena sets off to find him.

As Lena journeys across India to retrace Kay-Kay's last known steps, she embarks on a parallel journey of discovery. Because it seems there is a side to Kay-Kay she has never known. The more she learns about her brother in the weeks leading up to his disappearance, the more determined Lena is to find him - and to finally be the sister he has so clearly needed. But will she be too late...?



Dev Kothari is a masterful storyteller. This mystery (to assign it a genre for library shelving) is gripping and, in places, quite lyrical. Its realism and drama will appeal to children who want a bit of truth and grit in their fiction. They will 'get' the intense emotions Lena feels about her brother Kay-Kay, especially when he goes missing. They will make excuses, perhaps, for her lying and anger; identify with her complaints and root for her during her painful and determined search for clues.

A further attraction in Bringing Back Kay-Kay - beyond the striking cover - is the story's setting in modern-day India. To some, this world will be familiar and they will be pleased to see their cultural background depicted so positively. To others, it will be strange and exciting, and all the more so because the writing is so descriptive, evoking exotic sights, scents and sounds.

And then there's the poetry, which gives reader-detectives tantalising insight into the mind and heart of someone (Kay-Kay) who was everyone's pride and joy, but nursed secret longings beyond his apparent success.

I think this book deserves a wide audience and will be much enjoyed by those in transition (Years 6 & 7). I shall, however, be recommending it to mature younger children, too.

304 pages / Reviewed by Jane Rew, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


Bringing Back Kay-Kay is gripping from the start. The protagonist is 12-year-old Lena whose older brother, Kay-Kay, has gone missing after a summer camp. After the police seem to give up on finding him, Lena decides to take matters into her own hands and goes in search of Kay-Kay. Lena carries out her own interviews and research and then retraces her brother's last known journey.

During her investigations, Lena discovers that Kay-Kay is a talented poet and she finds strength and comfort from reading his poems. Lena is an immediately likeable, determined girl who adores her brother but has always felt her parents favour him. The book touches on family relationships and mental health issues in an appropriate and engaging way. There are also themes of friendship and human kindness, for example from Stan, a young boy who sleeps rough at a station every night but still finds the time and compassion to help Lena.

Bringing Back Kay-Kay is full of adventure and mystery and will appeal to readers of Nizrana Farook, Katherine Rundell and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It is a thoroughly enjoyable, captivating story and is highly recommended.

304 pages / Reviewed by Hannah Keohane, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


Bringing Back Kay-Kay is a fresh and original 'can't-put-it-down' mystery story for ages 9+ (Upper Key Stage 2). It would make a great read aloud or class novel set in modern-day India. Move it to the top of your 'to be read' pile!

Lena is intent on finding out why her brother, Karthik, never returned from summer camp. She is also, however, on her own with the investigation. The police think he is yet another runaway teenager - a sad statistic rather than a case to be solved. Her mother is slipping into depression and her father seems defeated; neither of them approve of Lena's passionate insistence that they need to look harder for Karthik.

With just a little bit of scraped together pocket money, and the courage to defy the adults around her, Lena sets out to investigate by herself. Her enquiries make her realise how much of her brother she has never understood - but will that be enough to solve the mystery of his disappearance? Are his secret poems a clue or a red herring? Why did he fall out with his best friend, Samir?

The narrative is tense and gripping and, at its centre, Lena is a compelling central character. Strong and feisty, she is nonetheless very aware of her own shortcomings. As it is written in the first person, as though she is talking privately to her brother, the story exposes her vulnerabilities - especially the feeling that she is not quite the daughter her parents would have wished for.

Flashbacks gradually reveal the interlocking family relationships, exploring themes of identity, self-worth, and parental expectation. This could pave the way to some important conversations with children in Upper Key Stage 2 about their own self-perceptions and moral dilemmas, as well as some fun discussing theories about what might have happened.

Meanwhile, the prose style is clear and engaging with a good balance of accessible language and more challenging vocabulary. Convincingly-written dialogue carries much of the characterisation while the description is woven lightly but vividly through the narrative. I especially noticed the way the author used the evocative senses of smell and touch to help bring the setting to life.

Throughout, Karthik's poetry punctuates the action, altering the pace and mood with thoughtful and lyrical interludes. I loved this book!

304 pages / Reviewed by Louisa Farrow, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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