by Michaela MacColl
Fifteen-year old Emily Dickinson is a dreamy young woman. Hidden in the bodice of her dress is a small notebook, in which she scribbles words as they come to her. Little intrudes on her quiet life, filled with chores and family duties. One morning she meets a stranger about her age, and he seems to understand her dark wonder at the world. He playfully tells her to call him “Mr. Nobody” and gives her no other name. They separate, and Emily wonders when she’ll see him again. All too soon, she does – as a corpse drowned in a pond on her family’s land. Emily refuses to believe that the young man she flirted with killed himself, or died accidentally, and begins poking around to uncover Mr. Nobody’s true identity and his murderer.
Each chapter begins with a line from one of Dickinson’s poems, and they usually tie in pretty well with the events from that story. I know little about the historical Dickinson’s youth, so I don’t know how likely that young woman would have been to run about sleuthing – but it’s certainly fun to think that she might have done, searching for clues like a 19th century Nancy Drew! The girl detective certainly seems true to what I know about the poet – Emily’s very close to her family, sometimes sickly, excellent scholar, very observant of the natural world, solitary and slightly morbid – but to be fair, all my knowledge of her comes from the week or two spent on her in my high school English class. So that’s one thing that this book definitely does – it inspires me to learn more about Emily Dickinson, since I’ve always loved her poetry.
The mystery is pretty good for a young adult novel. It’s plotted rather well throughout the book, and while there aren’t a lot of twists there’s at least one good one near the end. Emily does seem to have an awful lot of freedom for a girl her age, at that time – it’s hard to imagine her gaining postmortem access to the body of a murder victim, or being able to snoop in her father’s law firm. But it certainly seems plausible within the context of the novel, so I’ll roll with it.
The story is pretty short – about 200 pages, but the text is HUGE – and moves very quickly. At times, the characterization is pretty light. Other than Emily, the other characters are mostly quick sketches. But it was enjoyable book that I think will certainly appeal to younger readers, and it has a charm that many adults might like, too – especially the ones who grew up reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys or similar child detective book series.
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th…
2011: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
2010: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
2009: Local Bookstores Bank on Customer Loyalty