Mysteries were my first love. As a kid, I read every single Nancy Drew book in the library. Then I moved on to supernatural mysteries by Lois Duncan. I read and read and read – murder mysteries, romance mysteries, fantasy mysteries, sci-fi mysteries, action adventure mysteries – any story that was a puzzle for me to figure out. Not surprisingly, the first stories I wrote as a child were mysteries, and I still write mysteries now.
My recent favorites all have a strong emotional arc on top of the whodunit plot (SHINE, I HUNT KILLERS, ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD), and the book I picked to read this month (FAR FROM YOU) does as well. Caryn went old-school and dug up the childhood favorite, NANCY DREW. And Robin takes on current twist darling, WE WERE LIARS.
Without further ado, our YA Mystery reviews!
Caryn’s Pick: THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK by Carolyn Keene
A few weeks back, Sharon got me thinking about Nancy Drew. I thought I remembered reading her in my teen years, but now I realize I was much younger. When I first thought about re-reading the nostalgic series, Heather suggested that maybe this was more kid-lit than YA, and she was absolutely correct. The series is dated; there are no cell phones or computers and her mode of dress still includes white gloves. The writing is old-fashioned and words like gay and queer have no connection to the LGBT community. But in contrast, Nancy is a woman to be reckoned with, as a rich, headstrong, and distinctly reckless teenager who sometimes carries a pistol and who isn’t above breaking the law when it suits her purposes. She’s smart, brave and defies convention. Her belief in the goodness of humanity and the desire to help the downtrodden is inspiring. A cultural icon, Nancy Drew has been cited as a formative influence by a number of powerful women, from Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor, to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK, written by Mildred Wirt Benson, was originally published in 1930 but was significantly rewritten in 1959, and is the only version currently in print. This particular story finds Nancy involved in a search for a missing will. She is assisted in this by her father, a noted attorney, and by her older friend Helen Corning.
I wouldn’t consider this great literature, however the story held up rather well in terms of plot and character. A young child of seven or eight can learn a great deal from Nancy’s ethics and morals and I consider her a great role model for children. I felt an immediate connection to Nancy, as if I was visiting with an old treasured friend. If I had a young daughter I would encourage her to read the series, and as I recall, some of the other books are much more exciting.
And I can’t wait to tell you what I learned about how the series was actually written and published. I had no clue! But you’re just going to have to wait until Thursday…I’ll reveal the secret then.
Heather’s Pick: FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe
This book made me cry my eyes out, and though there’s a mystery that drives the plot forward, the most memorable part of the story is the tragic love triangle.
Normally I hate love triangles. Why? Because they’re melodramatic and unrealistic. Two guys love you and are fighting over you? Oh please, as if! I know it’s a common fantasy, which explains why love triangles are so popular, but I feel that by this point in literary history, this plot device is a lazy gimmick.
Not in this novel.
I can’t get into details without spoilers, but suffice to say if you’re craving to read about raw, honest relationships, you won’t be disappointed.
As for the mystery, it is decent but not mind-blowing. It moves along at a good pace, and Sophie’s investigation is realistically what a teenager could pull off (none of this super sleuth, as-if-a-teen-could-do-that clue getting), but I did suspect who did it. However, take that with a grain of salt, because after reading hundreds of mysteries, it’s pretty near impossible to surprise me. I will say that I still found the ending exciting and didn’t suspect exactly why the murderer had killed Mina.
So if you like your heart-wrenching contemporary YA with a little mystery, give FAR FROM YOU a read!
Robin’s Pick: WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart
When a book is overly heralded as brilliant, I can’t help but wonder if the book will fall short simply because my expectations are so elevated. I fear this is one of those times. I found this book fine once it got rolling, but I didn’t love it and I ended up being a tad confused by all the reviewer fuss.
This is the story of Cadence, a young girl who suffers a tragic accident on her family’s island the summer she turns fifteen. The circumstances surrounding her injury are shrouded in secrecy, she has amnesia and her doctors advise the family to allow her to remember what happened on her own terms. Cadence is a privileged person, heir to a huge fortune from her maternal grandfather as the first born grandchild. Her family is dysfunctional and bitter, miming the patterns of a happy extended family without feeling any of the affection. I never bonded with Cadence or with her family, but I don’t think I was supposed to.
What I liked about the book was the ending, something everyone raves about and I think rightly so because it took me by surprise. I pulled together some of the clues, but I shaped them into a different conclusion. However, the problem with this ending twist is once you know it, the story is over. You’re left with a book that exists exclusively for the sake of getting the reader to the big twist. If you want to read this book, do it today, because catching even a hint of a spoiler will destroy any chance you have of enjoying it. I have to wonder how long this book will stay popular, because I don’t see how the ending twist can stay under wraps for much longer. The other thing I appreciated about this book is it appears to be a stand alone book. Lately I’ve been feeling a touch underwhelmed with series books, so I found this a refreshing change.
The story is unusual and the story telling style is fresh and sprinkled with strong metaphors. Plus it has the ending plot twist that may surprise you, so if you are looking for a quick summer read with a hint of mystery and a whole lot of teen emotions: first love, crushing parental failures, and Kennedyesque family riches with all of the traditional vices, this is your book.
3 thoughts on “What We’re Reading: July is for Mysteries”
I read Nancy Drew as a child too. I’d stay up until 2 in the morning just to finish a book. My parents had to take my light bulbs away, I was so bad about shirking my bed time. I devoured mysteries back then, but have moved on in adulthood. Still, fond memories.
I think we all started this way, reading beyond bedtime and in total secret. Now parents are thrilled if they can get their kids to read for fun. Thanks for the comments.