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Nechama Brodie

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Bland fare for youth

There are some fantastic kids’ books on the shelves, worth a nose from adult readers – Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, for example – but the rapidly expanding volume of youth and teen titles contain as many cubic zirconias as they do diamonds…

YS Lee’s A Spy in the House is a children’s Victorian detective story, about a young thief named Mary who is rescued from the gallows and educated at a private ladies’ school, where she is recruited into “The Agency”, a detective agency made up of women. The plot elements are perfect; Jane Austen (wrong era, I know) meets Nancy Drew. It should make for a cracking good tale… But I found it thin in places – like a good soup that’s been watered down. There’s plenty of action, but the “big reveal” is poorly constructed, too-quickly explained, as if the author spent all her time focusing on character development and not enough time on the crucial crime and detection aspects. Philip Pullman’s “Sally Lockhart” books were much more dramatic, better crafted (as stories), also set in Victorian times and featuring a young girl from the slums who is called on to save the day.

I’m not sure what the purpose is of writing up a negative review about a book, but I felt rather disappointed when I read this one, and motivated enough to write about it.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    June 20th, 2009 @09:33 #
     
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    This is handy, Nechama, esp for those of us with godkids etc hitting their teen years, and wrestling with the perennial question of A Present. Don't you hate it when a good idea for a book just lies flat on the pages? I felt that way about The Jane Austen Book Club. I know half a dozen writers (me included!) who were going to write that book one day, the concept is so brilliant. And then Karen Joy Fowler went and spoiled it for everyone (although I'm told the film is better than the book).

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  • DC
    DC
    June 22nd, 2009 @15:36 #
     
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    Hi there! It's funny: I just read A Spy in the House and Googled it to see what was out there. It's the book I've enjoyed most in a good while: a diamond rather than a cubic zirconia! I really loved the atmosphere and character building, and the final scenes got me red-cheeked and sweaty-palmed, which for me is rare. Unlike you, Nechama,I'd really recommend it. Ah, differences of opinion!

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    June 22nd, 2009 @15:51 #
     
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    Hmmm, this kind of over-zealous response smacks of PR-dom?

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    June 22nd, 2009 @16:42 #
     
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    I'd put money on it, Lauren.

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  • DC
    DC
    June 22nd, 2009 @16:44 #
     
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    Maybe I'll quit my teaching job, then. There's probably a lot more money in PR!

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  • <a href="http://kathrynwhite.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    Kathryn
    June 22nd, 2009 @16:44 #
     
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    Nah - a true PR response would have way more exclamation marks.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    June 22nd, 2009 @18:59 #
     
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    And only a very, very dedicated PR person would have stuck it out and filled in the "DC is reading..." bit. Perhaps you should consider the career swap? Although journos are as hostile to PR people as teens are to teachers.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    June 22nd, 2009 @19:14 #
     
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    Sorry for making assumptions, DC. This site is occasionally visited by spam-bots and PR types, so one gets overly jaded at times.

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  • DC
    DC
    June 22nd, 2009 @20:40 #
     
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    No worries! And I like the term 'spam-bots'. That's a new one to me!

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 22nd, 2009 @21:00 #
     
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    Ahem. We may have been visited by spam-bots, but they've never penetrated our defenses, my pride as a webhead requires me to protest. Only real-life spam-people have succeeded in posting their rubbish here, and that so infrequently that in three years we've had fewer instances of spam comments than I have fingers.

    Now, search-bots are a different story altogether! But we'll save that for another thread.

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