Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: YA Mystery

Review: A Pocketful of Eyes – Lili Wilkinson

A Pocketful of Eyes book coverI’m amazed that there aren’t more Young Adult mysteries out there. It’s such a well-loved genre when it comes to junior and middle grade fiction, what with the massive popularity of the Enid Blyton mysteries and series such as Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but then there’s a real hole in the market in the section between those books and their adult counterparts. I was excited, therefore, to discover A Pocketful of Eyes. I knew of Lili Wilkinson from her excellent Pink and was very pleased that she had produced an Australian, Young Adult take on the murder mystery.

Just like the stories that are regularly referenced in the novel, A Pocketful of Eyes is great fun. There’s an ever present sense of its place in the world of the whodunnit, but Wilkinson is also aware at all times of her audience. There’s no stuffy Poirot here. The protagonist, Bee, is just as keen a detective as her literary ancestors, but she’s also very much a teenage girl. Her sleuthing is often derailed by her growing crush on her sidekick, Toby, and she has her geeky mother and her new boyfriend to deal with as well.

I knew I’d love A Pocketful of Eyes from the moment that it started talking about Bee’s childhood obsession with Trixie Belden. I, too, wanted to be Trixie when I grew up, and I received far too much pleasure from the references to her and the book series throughout the novel. I have to wonder whether Wilkinson was also a big childhood fan of junior mysteries, because they are all spoken of with such love.

The mystery itself is nicely paced and cleverly constructed. While I picked up on the murder weapon reasonably early in the piece, due to the various hints given in the pages, I had not predicted the other details of the death at all, which is always good. (To be fair, I am not the type of person who tends to think a lot about whodunnit, preferring to let things unfold at the author’s pace.) As with most books in the genre, the reader has to suspend disbelief a little, but I think that’s part of the fun of mysteries. There’s an escapist element to lay detectives that really appeals to one’s own, personal sense of potential adventure.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of A Pocketful of Eyes, given the aforementioned lack of YA mysteries, but was very pleased to find that I enjoyed it very much. I’d love to see more books about Bee, or at least a few more whodunnits from Lili Wilkinson.

Review: Never Have I Ever – Sara Shepard

Never Have I Ever book coverWith Never Have I Ever, her second instalment in her The Lying Game series, Sara Shepard keeps the positives of the first book and cuts many of the negatives, leaving us with a better book overall. While I enjoyed The Lying Game, its sequel really drew me in and I think I’d now have to call myself a fan of the series.

All of the characters from the first book return for the second, but the big difference here is that the Twitter Twins, Lili and Gabby, play a much bigger role. Initially very annoying, they slowly become more likeable as the novel progresses, much as Laurel and Madeline continue to develop and become more-rounded characters. (Charlotte, in contrast, seems to slip into the background.) Most of all, however, Sutton seems to come into her own in Never Have I Ever. With the back-story out of the way, her strong voice is able to take over, so we find her cheering Emma on and groaning at her mistakes and truly feeling like a real character. Although it’s interesting to see Emma becoming a little more like her twin as the series progresses, it’s Sutton who seems to have the most room for character growth.

Once again, the mystery is at the forefront of the novel, and much of the plot is concerned with the identification of new suspects, along with a few new threatening situations that Emma finds herself in. While there’s certainly a formula to these books, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to watch it play out, even if we do work out the truth long before Emma and Sutton do! Shepard manages to keep the suspense high throughout the novel, which makes this a page turner and a surprisingly quick read.

My only real criticism of Never Have I Ever is that there were a couple of inconsistencies with the continuity. For instance, Emma uses Sutton’s iPhone at a point where it was still confiscated by her parents and, towards the end of the book, Sutton looks at Emma despite earlier stating that she can only see the world through Emma’s eyes. While such mistakes tend to draw the reader out of the action temporarily, however, they don’t detract from one’s overall enjoyment of the book.

Never Have I Ever was a lot of fun and its mystery well and truly has me hooked by this point. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Two Truths and a Lie.

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