Sunday, January 27, 2013

This changes everything

On the recommendation of a friend, I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and completely fell in love with the precocious 11-year-old poison-obsessed detective heroine. Though the protagonist is a tween, the book is not for young adults.

It's HILARIOUS. Flavia de Luce, the narrator, lives in dire financial times on her family's ancient estate with her philatelist father and two older sisters. To escape her siblings' taunting and the absence of the mother she never knew, Flavia spends much of her time in her personal chemistry laboratory sating her intellectual curiosity or plotting revenge. When a murder occurs on her family's property, she is morbidly fascinated by it, and pedals off on her bicycle across the English countryside to elude the police and solve the case on her own.

The book's brillance stems from Flavia's isolating, in-between age: she's too old to be babysat but too young still to have her input taken seriously by grown-ups. With snide potshots at her sisters and acerbic observations about the adults around her, she's an incredibly delightful heroine.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the sequel to The Girl is Murder, a noir-lite book for young adults. I didn't exactly love Book 1, but The Girl is Trouble is slightly better (if vastly more disturbing in content).

For starters, it wraps up the huge loose end of teen detective Iris' mother's death. While the reader (and Iris) have long thought she committed suicide, Trouble  brings the sinister truth to light in a way that wraps up most of the other loose ends from the first book. Whereas bobby soxers and high school cliques dominated the story in Murder, infiltration of the American Bund becomes the center of Trouble's gruesome mystery.

I think the titles for the two books should be swapped to better reflect their content.

But really, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie knocks any book with a young protagonist detective out of the ballpark.

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