This is one post I had been wanting to do for ages and it’s now I finally moved my arse along to do it! Long before I got into anime or even knew what it was, there was already a series I was quite fanatical about during my primary childhood years. I only happened to rediscover my love for this book series recently after discovering someone had drawn some fanart for “Teen Power Inc.” (even if I’m 4 years late judging from the date the artwork was posted).
I’m feeling much nostalgia just looking at the covers for the books in my collection! LOL. For those who are unfamiliar with this book series, here is the wikipedia page that will give you some information on it. It was created by Australian author Emily Rodda (real name Jennifer Rowe) who is now pretty much known for the more popular “Deltora Quest” book series (which has been adapted into a Japanese anime series) but I urge those who are fans of her work to check this out as well!
Before I start to ramble on about how I discovered Teen Power Inc., it should be noted that some of the books have been re-printed in the US under a new title called “Raven Hill Mysteries” and according to the wikipedia page, a number of elements have been changed with mixed reactions. Don’t know how I’d feel about it since I have not read these re-prints but probably don’t think I’d want to anyway judging by some of the things that were changed. The premise of the series in short is best described below from Wikipedia.
The series revolves around six teenagers who have set up a part-time job agency, Teen Power Inc. (changed to Help-for-Hire in the republished editions) to work for cash before and after school. Usually, their jobs end up getting them into trouble and each book in the series generally revolves around one main mystery for the gang to solve; with the narrator being the crime-solver. The gang consists of: Richelle Brinkley, Sunny Chan, Liz Free, Nick Kontellis, Tom Moysten and Elmo Zimmer.
It’s quite funny actually to how I first came across this fantastic series, you see back when I was a primary school kid, there would always be an opportunity every few months for kids to pre-order various popular books and paperback comics through the school from a catalogue given out to us (or at least the primary school I went to anyway). I was never much into reading as a child but was already into The Simpsons cartoon by around 9 or 10 years old and discovered some comics from it, anyway, there was this Simpsons comic collection that I was interested in ordering from the catalogue and had planned to only buy that since there wasn’t any other books I was interested in getting…that was until I came across a page advertising the first two books of Teen Power Inc., but it wasn’t the books that caught my attention no. What caught my attention was the fact that the two books also came with a special Teen Power Inc. FM radio walkman! (God I feel so old just remembering that I had an FM radio walkman long before the portable discman, mp3 player and iPod came into existence! XD). I really wanted that walkman and decided to add it in to my orders, when it finally arrived I pretty much just shoved the books into a corner in my room behind the TV and forgot all about it.
Fast forward a year later, I had a small project on giving a book review. To my dilemma, there wasn’t any books that I picked yet and the presentation was coming up in a few days. I was getting desperate and one late night I happened to remember those two Teen Power books I had put away so I thought “oh well, I ‘ll just use this then”. I randomly picked “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (book #2 out of 30 in the series) out of the two based on the interesting blurb on the back of the book and started on it. Needless to say, I was hooked into the story and stayed up into the late night just to finish it. By the end, I was wondering to myself why had I not started reading this earlier? I was engrossed into the mystery, the characters and settings plus the amazing twist to the story.
Upon finishing the book, I quickly jumped straight into “The Ghost of Raven Hill” (the very first book in the series) and also enjoyed the story as much as the previous one I read. Over the next few months I scoured through the school’s library to find if they had more in the series and found they only had a selected few such as “Bad Apple”, “St. Elmo’s Fire” & “Green For Danger”. I actually ended borrowing all of what they had and tried to keep getting my fix for the series. By the time I started high school, Teen Power Inc. was the very first thought that came into my mind whenever my class would head to the school’s library for reading period. It was very disappointing that the high school I went to only had ONE book out of the entire series for loan, of which I had already read back during primary school, though I was determined to find and read all the other books someday.
It wasn’t until after I had completed high school that my mission to collect the entire series started. It initially started off with me going through whatever local book stores there were near me and asking if they stocked the series. Much to my dismay, I could not find it in any stores as by this time the series was over 10 years old and it would no longer be re-printed in Australia, however, thanks to my discovery of eBay I was floored to find many of the books were up for sale or auction. I was lucky enough to win two auctions that contained a large bulk of the series and managed to read through about 10 books in one day because I was just so happy to have finally acquire the ones I didn’t get to read back when I was a high school student.
The Teen Power Inc. Gang
While the stories and cases for each book are interesting and often quite captivating, the major element that really hooked me into Teen Power were the 6 main characters with their different personalities and attitudes towards each other. It also helped that throughout the series, the books were written in a specific member’s POV which allowed some insight into what they really thought of their friendships and dynamic work relationships.
Taken from the Wikipedia Page
Liz (Elizabeth) Free – Liz is the de facto leader of the gang. It was originally her idea to set up Teen Power Inc., and she is very protective of it. She is the most sentimental out of the group, and genuinely cares a lot about others. Liz Free describes herself as “plain” – average height, average weight and mid-length brown hair. She enjoys op shopping and making her own clothes to wear. The daughter of a real estate father and bank teller mother, she has one younger brother Pete (although a continuity error in Breaking Point sees her brother renamed Danny) and a large shaggy dog Christo. Every Friday she goes to the retirement home, ‘Craigend’, to visit Pearl Plummer and do her shopping for her.
Tom (Thomas) Moysten – Tom is the typical class clown, who likes to tell jokes and muck around in class. Despite this, he is a very talented artist and this is one of his key characteristics in the series, along with his fondness for eating. Tom is very tall and lanky. He has gangly arms and legs, and braces on his teeth. He is a messy dresser, which reflects his messy personality. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother Grace and her new husband Brian, an ancient history teacher at Raven Hill High, and his two half-brothers Adam and Jonathan. There is high tension between Brian and Tom, although this eases towards the later books as each begins to understand the other a little more. Tom’s biological father, Mel, is a painter who lives in Banyan Bay with his new wife Faye (Banyan Bay and Mel Moysten are both featured prominently in the book The Secret of Banyan Bay). He cannot swim. Tom and Sunny get on well because they both know what it is like to have divorced parents.
Richelle Brinkley – Richelle is the frequently vague and looks-conscious member. She has known Liz since kindergarten, and they are still friends, although they have little in common. Richelle is tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. She dreams of being a model or a movie star. She is a rather shallow character, but at times, she surprises her friends with her intelligence. Richelle lives with her mum and timberyard manager dad, and her older sister Tiffany and younger brother Jason.
Elmo Zimmer III – Elmo is the only member of the gang who was not part of the original grouping in the first book, The Ghost of Raven Hill, even though he appears as a character almost from the beginning when he joins Teen Power Inc. to deliver the local paper The Pen. His father, also Elmo Zimmer, is the editor of The Pen, and the first book traces the history of the Zimmer family through to Elmo’s grandfather (also Elmo Zimmer and the original editor of The Pen) and the survival of the local paper against the rival Star. Elmo’s mother Sarah died when Elmo was very young, and Elmo, following his father and his grandfather before him, dreams of running The Pen when he grows up. Elmo is a quiet and keen boy who is interested in local news. He adds determination to the group.
Sunny (Alice) Chan – Sunny is Liz’s best friend. She is the most athletic out of the gang and does lots of gymnastics, yoga and Tae-kwon-do. She lives with her mother and her three sisters Sarah, Amy and Penny. Her eldest sister Cathie, with whom she used to share a room, got married to her boyfriend Lindsay Shearer in book #29 (The Secret Enemy). Her father Roy Chan is a famous tennis player in America, and divorced Sunny’s mother when Sunny was aged four. This forms the basis of much of the storyline in book #5 (Beware the Gingerbread House). Sunny is a calm and practical girl who knows how to get out of tight situations. She is also the smallest of the group and this enables her to squeeze into smaller spots than the rest of the gang can.
Nick (Nicholas) Kontellis – Nick is the slicked-back cool guy of the group and often acts sarcastic and superior. His father Demetrios, originally from Greece, is a well-off importer-exporter and the Kontellis family live in the wealthier parts of Raven Hill. His mother Toula is very protective of him, as her only child. Nick likes computer games and business, and is usually the member most concerned with the money aspect of each job. He is the brains of the group. He and Tom frequently clash due to their different personalities though they are the best of friends.
Out of all the members, I find myself drawn towards Tom’s character because of his comical personality and constant joking, but on a more personal level, I could relate to him in the sense of having divorced parents and the constant pressure of doing well in school. In fact, I distinctly remember trying to dress up as him for one of the book fair parades back in primary school shortly after I had become a fan of the series though I’m not sure if anyone knew who I was trying to be. The other members are also likable in their own ways but I find it ironic that growing up I ended up more like Nick in terms of appearances lol.
Poor Tom though, it seems he ends up copping the most physical damage and danger to his life out of all the members whenever it comes to their crime-solving adventures. From being choked (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), to thrown into the sea (The Secret Of Banyan Bay), to having his head bashed on the ground repeatedly til he’s unconscious (Dangerous Game), to being held hostage at gun point (Deep Freeze) I’m surprised he still manages to keep his comical attitude after enduring all that, but I think it might have to do with the gang being supportive and keeping him grounded (most of the time anyway).
One aspect that I would’ve liked to have seen explored throughout the series was the romance between the members of the group as I sensed there were some sparks within certain members, but I guess it was deemed unnecessary by Emily Rodda and probably out of place given the genre of the series, not to mention the book was aimed towards young children and teenagers. Still, that doesn’t stop the (very small) fandom of Teen Power Inc. making up their own pairings based on the relationships of each member (including slash ahaha). Me personally, I always got the feeling Tom had a crush on Sunny and her likewise with both caring deeply for each other (particularly in Beware Of The Gingerbread House, Dangerous Game, Bad Apples, St. Elmo’s Fire and The Missing Millionaire) but I also felt Liz might’ve felt something for Tom (Nowhere To Run & Breaking Point) which would’ve made an interesting love triangle going on. Add to that, there was also possible hints Elmo liked Liz but I can’t exactly remember which book contained that. As for Nick & Richelle…well I don’t really have much interest in their characters but it seems there was some obvious hints (The Disappearing TV Star) that they could possibly become a pair.
I do have to put in an honorable mention to Elmo’s father as his quirky introduction in the very first book of the series was quite memorable for me, in which he does a small dance in front of Liz & Sunny’s creeped out expression when they go to his newspaper agency to put in their ad. I remember laughing quite hard at that scene XD.
My Complete Teen Power Inc. Book Collection
Yes, there it is. All 30 books that completes the series. All of them except for one (book #25 Dirty Tricks) are from the 1997-1998 re-prints by Scholastic. I know there was at least one more re-print of these books with new covers similar to book #25 in the early 2000’s but it’s this edition that I’m most fond of as the colours for each member is pretty distinct and stands outs, plus the artworks for the covers are more appealing with those silver embossed borders.
With the exception of the first two books, all of these were acquired from eBay with the last 6 books (#25-#30) being the hardest to find. Those last 6 books are even more hard to find in the 97/98 re-prints and would probably sell for quite a high price, I remember seeing that edition for the book Dirty Tricks popping up only once and if I remember correctly it sold for OVER $100AUD! I was bummed I didn’t manage to win the auction for that one but eventually settled for the early 2000 re-print edition when it popped up sometime later.
It’d be interesting how much the complete book collection would fetch for these days since the last one I remembered that was listed on ebay sold for up to $250AUD or so lol, I won’t be selling my collection though as they’re still very cherished by me but I know there are some who are very keen to get all 30 books. If only I still had that special Teen Power Inc. radio FM walkman (I wore it out over my childhood years and it ended up falling apart which I had to throw away in the end) then I’d have a rare unique collectors item for this series, I remember it was about the size of a radio cassette tape in red with the 97 Teen Power Inc. logo on it with the raven that is shown on the book’s spine.
One interesting note is that there is an alternate cover for book #11 The Missing Millionaire in the 97/98 re-print. I’m not sure why, but I assume that the original one (which is in my collection pic above) probably looked too scary for children and a more tamer artwork was used.
The Best Or Most Recommended Book
It’s really quite hard for me to pick out one certain book or a selected few to say which ones are the best as I really like quite a lot of them so I’ll name at least one book written from each member’s POV that I found to be the best or highly recommended.
Liz Free – Book #13 Nowhere To Run – I really liked the setting for this story where the gang is on a school camping trip as the descriptions for the environment and surroundings made me easy to visualise it, especially the scene where all of the members and a pack of students are lost in the bush at night and have to stick together giving that eerie sense of feeling and fear of what’s out there. I also recommend book #7 Breaking Point.
Tom Moysten – I always find that the mysteries and adventures written in Tom’s perspective tend to be my favourites over the others but with him being my favourite character, it’s not surprising I guess. I particularly liked book #8 The Secret Of Banyan Bay as it really delves into his mindset of his family, aspirations and his insecurities, but the one thing that stood out from this book was just how much the other members care for him, especially when he’s faced with danger on his own. Book #14 Dangerous Game also illustrates how much danger he faces with and suffering the consequences (head concussions) but what was notable to me was Sunny’s almost emotional reaction to finding Tom lying unconscious on the street and bruised all over further re-enforcing my belief there’s some deep affection going on between those two.
Richelle Brinkley – Was very interesting reading through the stories written in her POV, at first I found it comical with most of her stories showing her random thoughts that would always be either about clothes or celebrities but book #17 Fear In Fashion clearly shows her putting her looks and determination to good use in helping the gang solve their case.
Elmo Zimmer – To be honest, I found Elmo to be the most boring character out of the gang and it definitely showed with book #10 Poison Pen & #18 Danger In Rhyme being the weakest out of the series compared to the others in my opinion, but ironically, his story on book #22 St. Elmo’s Fire ended up being one the strongest ones as it felt like it was a deep suspense movie, especially with the settings and great use of the weather elements adding to the impact of the story. Book #4 Cry Of The Cat wasn’t also too bad either as we get to learn of Tom’s claustrophobia lol.
Sunny Chan – Being Asian myself, I found it quite impressive that there was even an Asian being part of the Teen Power gang when I first read the books. Though there are parts in some of Sunny’s stories where we clearly see her connecting to her Asian heritage, the majority of times she’s just like any other typical Western teenager, albeit fanatically sporty, even her parents are portrayed like any normal Western parents. Like Tom, we also get to know about her insecurities (particularly her jealousy over Liz’s long childhood friendship with Richelle) through the stories written in her views. While her stories aren’t the best, they’re not terrible either like book #23 Bad Apples which takes a much more relaxed and tamer plot while highlighting how she fits into the group. Book #11 The Missing Millionaire is slightly more on the puzzle clue solving side but I would only recommend this for her and Tom’s hilarious joking about the job they do in that book.
Nick Kontellis – Ah Mr. Cool. Well, if his stories are anything to go by, it’s more like Mr. Okay. The only book where I felt the story really had great enjoyment was book #6 Green For Danger that had some impressive puzzles and clue work for the gang to solve. Besides that, book #24 The War Of The Work Demons really shows Nick’s problem within the group (especially with Tom) and his honorable attempt to repair the damage when the group and their friendship looked to be like it was over, though I’m sure slash fangirls will definitely love one particular scene that involved a lot of food being thrown at each other. Sadly, I do have to mention that book #16 The Case Of Crazy Claude also joins with Elmo’s other two books as part of the weaker stories.
It really is great to be going down memory lane and rediscover my love for this book series, the characters, their interactions and co-operation, jokes, suspense, mystery and overall enjoyable stories from Emily Rodda. While Deltora Quest may be her most popular work to date (of which I had read a few books and tried to get into but just didn’t like at all), it will always be Teen Power Inc. that will be my most favourite series she’s ever written. It was quite sad for me knowing that when I finally got to the very last book in the series there wouldn’t be anymore new ones to look forward to reading after going along with the gang on the journey of what they went through including the cases they solved.
I only wish that these books can possibly be adapted into a TV series or cartoon as the stories were fun and I think it’d appeal to young children and teenagers who are into mystery and crime-solving shows like it did back when they were first published. Even better would be one more book from Emily giving closure to this series by shedding some light into what each member of the group has become in the future and possibly their reunion. It seems I’m not the only one who craves for this as someone else over at fanfiction.net thought of at least providing some work in progress epilogue detailing the aftermath of the Teen Power Inc. series and this has given me motivation to re-read the books. They will definitely be cherished by me for many years to come.