by Lili Wilkinson
508 pages, ReadHowYouWant.com Ltd.
Review by S.F. Winser
It's YA! It's a romance! It's a mystery! It's funny as hell!
Bee works in a museum taxidermy department. She's focussed. She likes making lists. More than a touch nerdy, (though her even nerdier mum takes the cake for most honest geek in literature) Bee loves her job and is hating the idea that, once holidays finish, she'll have to go back to high school.
Unfortunately a few complications get in the way of her calmly completing all her tasks and getting on with her quiet life in her quiet workspace.
The first is the arrival of the annoyingly cute, annoyingly charming and just plain annoying university student who needs to get some extra credit for his anatomy classes. It's hardly her fault that Bee does embarrassing things with him on the back of a stuffed tiger.
Also, her mother's regular Dungeons and Dragons sessions seem to have manifested her mum a new boyfriend in the shape of a Giant Celestial Badger. (Every time I read something about Bee's mum and thought “Now THAT'S too geeky to stay true to a real character”, I'd remember some of my geeky friends from high school – and lets be honest, myself in high school – and realise that Bee's mum doesn't even come close to too nerdy.)
Oh, and someone died in the museum. Only Bee, obsessed with crime novels and science, seems to realise... suspect... be paranoid enough... to think it might be murder. It all boils down to someone having 'A Pocketful of Eyes'.
I love Bee. She's intense and serious but with an unwilling sense of humour. It's almost like she knows she's funny, but wishes she wasn't. She has lots of great lines. My favourites being about David Bowie's 'magic pants' in the movie 'Labyrinth'. Or any time she's dissing Nancy Drew for being too god-damned perfect.
Balancing the three (really two and a bit) plot aspects here is tough and Wilkinson only rarely stumbles. Thankfully she has Bee and the uber-charming Toby to keep the reader interested when the mystery gets a bit exposition-heavy or the romance a little lost in the midst of trying to keep the rest of the plot pumping along. And these bits are very rare.
Seriously, while I want to do the good Booksquawk thing and start examining deeper meanings and what have you, all I really want to say is that I had a blast reading it. It was, in the simplest terms, bloody good fun. A bit of humour, sweetness, mystery, great characters... what else could you ask for except possibly the words 'Bee and Toby return in.... book two of the science mysteries!' or what have you? Probably a better title would be advisable. This is why I don't work in a publisher's marketing department.
This has serious series potential. A library colleague and I were recently bemoaning a lack of 'funny' mysteries for young girls. There are the Nancy Drews, the Lady Graces, the Trixie Beldons to fill the same sort of niche as Agatha Christie or Anne Perry... but no real equivalents to Janet Evanovich or Kerry Greenwood. This book is aimed a bit older than what we were talking about, but it's just the kind of thing that's missing from the YA market as well. There are plenty of fun crime novels for adults that are laced with humour, and very little of the same for the younger demographics. Wilkinson is on to something here. I hope she stays on it.
Also, for a quick bit of research, I checked out Wilkinson's blog where she often has very wise things to say about YA and teens in general. Anyone working in the field would be rewarded by a quick visit. She even had a nice (and funny) post about character's 'wants' and 'needs' that just helped me clarify an issue I'm having with my current never-to-be-published-by-anyone-sane manuscript. She worked for the State Library running their teen website and teaches creative writing – she knows what she's doing.