As a pre-teen, I was obsessed with Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. One summer, in fact, I read the book eleven times in a row. So enchanted I was by that book that I forced myself to eat tomato and mayo sandwiches, Harriet’s lunch of choice, even though I liked none of the components (tomato; white bread; mayo) particularly well on their own and certainly not in combination with one another. When I finished my bout with Harriet the Spy, I swiftly moved on to The Long Secret*, reading it several times over as well. From 1992 (the Boxcar Children years) – 2013 (when I realized that paranoia isn’t a charming quality), if someone had asked me what it was that I wanted to do with my life, I answered, “I’d like to be a detective.” Now, I’d just like to write a (smart, engaging, hilarious, unpredictable) book about one.
Someone** beat me to it. Normally, I’d be mad about such a thing (and probably spiral into a self-doubting puddle of tears), but I was too busy laughing out loud to do so. In fact, numerous times throughout the novel, I made my husband listen to me as I read aloud from the book just so that I’d have someone with whom to share the joke.
Overview: Set in Friendship, WI, a town whose homey “Don’tcha knows?” and sunny good intentions belie a much darker undercurrent, the novel opens with a shocking discovery: with her lips sewn shut and her body stuffed with hay, Ruth Fried, a once beautiful high school girl, is discovered in a cornfield. When the bumbling local police lead a lackluster investigation and the rest of the town is only too content to close the case quickly, Kippy Bushman, Ruth’s best friend and the plucky narrator of this novel, daringly undertakes the investigation herself. Quirky and resourceful, Kippy searches for clues amidst Ruth’s (absolutely freaking hilarious) diary, channels the professionalism of her idol Diane Sawyer, and calls on her background as an observant daughter of a school counselor to pursue every clue she finds, leaving no stone unturned, no soul un-scrutinized. Darkly imagined yet effervescently communicated***, the book will keep you guessing until the end. The dialogue is spot on, bawdy, and eccentric in a Lena Dunham cum Coen Brothers kind of way, and the characters are memorably idiosyncratic.
Novel type: a young adult mystery thriller that appeals to the almost 30 year old me; it has humor that speaks to the teenager in all of us
My rating: 9/10
Read if you: identify strongly with characters like Hannah Horvath, Marge Gunderson, Bee Fox, or Juno MacGuff; think small towns are eerie; appreciate dialect; crack up at topics like periods, genitalia, and bodily fluids; love a good mystery
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*This book itself is a best-kept secret; if you’re a Harriet the Spy fan, you must read this sequel, as it’s even better than the first book.
**Incidentally, she and I went to high school together. Since she’s a good human, I am happy about her success.