I Am Half Sick of Shadows

First I want to say I liked this book very much. Very, very much. Second, let me take a step back and explain why I’m going to rave about a book for middle readers. Yes, I know. I don’t generally review children’s literature. The YA stuff that’s so popular today, even among adults, kind of turns me off. The writing is bad; the characters cliched. But I’ve been wondering what pre-YA kids are reading now that my own kids are young adults. Plus I want to have some book-talk for the 10-12-year-olds I know. So I was relieved to happen upon Alan Bradley’s I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. I do have a soft spot for young people’s fiction set in Britain. Yep, C.S. Lewis left his mark on me. But the Bradley’s sleuthing heroine, Flavia de Luce, is too much–in a good way. An 11-year-old would be crime solver/chemist, Flavia is pretty real in her confusions about adults and her wishes and dreams. She may be unflinching in her interest in all things science, but true to her age, her eldest sister’s budding romances gross her out a bit. Flavia is also suitably bewildered by her parents (mother is dead, of course, in a good gothic meme), and she puts much effort into piecing together the world of the grown-ups around her. Like a real 11-year-old, she doesn’t even know how to ask the questions. The murder–and this is no spoiler considering the genre and the previous novels in the series–happens about half way through. That, however, does not detract at all from the intrigue and the plot, which keeps moving apace. The little details are fantastic–from how to make bird lime to the awfulness of the cook’s cakes. You know how I always can guess the plot from like the third chapter of a mystery? (Or the 15 minute mark of a movie. As I say, I’ve read Shakespeare and the Bible, and it’s all in there.) I was slightly surprised at the turn of events. But the story itself isn’t the biggest draw here. It’s Flavia de Luce and Bradley’s wit and storytelling skills. People who need a book for bedtime read-aloud to children 9 years-old and up–here’s one for you. But maybe start with the first in the series for a more extended treat. (A click on the cover will take you to the Barnes and Noble website.)