"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

04 May 2015

Scarlett Undercover

Latham, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover. Little, Brown BYR, 2015.

Scarlett graduated from high school two years early, and while she waits for her peers to catch up, she's running a private investigation business. She left business cards at all the local schools, and most of her cases are fairly simple. But when a young girl contacts her because she believes her brother was involved in the recent, highly publicized death of another boy, Scarlett is soon dealing with a case that may make her wonder if she's bit off more than she can chew.

This is a classic gumshoe novel, right down to Scarlett having her own office and visiting less-than-classy neighborhoods in order to get information. Scarlett is also Muslim, and her faith and its accompanying mythos play into the case she's trying to solve.

What I liked: Scarlett is a strong character and she fits well into the role of gumshoe detective. The story itself is a classic gumshoe story and would be a great "gateway novel" for teens who enjoy mysteries and may want to read adult gumshoe novels. I love that Scarlett is a not a white man who solves crimes and that the mythos behind the object she seeks is not European- or Christian- centric.

What I didn't like: I didn't get enough backstory. Why is Scarlett allowed to run a private investigator business, including having her own office, when everyone else her age is still sitting in geometry class? This doesn't jive with her sister's adherence to their Muslim faith. Scarlett even mentions at one point that, as a Muslim girl, she should not be alone with a man who is not part of her family, and yet her sister, who is Scarlett's guardian, is letting her run a business? I don't buy it. And where do they get the money to do that, anyway? Her sister is in residency at a local hospital, so she certainly doesn't have a lot of money.

My other big gripe is the absolutely painful use of figurative language. In Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, the main character says these really horrible similes and then has to explain them to other people, but it's part of his character and is only used in his dialog. Scarlett, however, apparently thinks in bad metaphors and similes. I know she's a teen, but she doesn't have to think the way a teen might write. Here is a small sampling of the figurative language from this book:

"And everything seemed to run smooth as fresh-shaved legs."
"It made Reem about ashappy as a cat in a kennel when I skipped [school]."
"Because I wanted him keeping track of me like I wanted a fresh paper cut."
"So I stood and walked away, weak as a prom night chastity pledge."

I could forgive the plot holes, but not the painful figurative language. With some editing, this book could easily achieve the full five stars.

Recommended for: teens, fans of mystery
Red Flags: minor language, some violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for review purposes.

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