|Oct/Nov 2004 Book Reviews|
M.E. Rabb. The Rose Queen.
Speak (paperback edition). 2004. 186 pp.
M.E. Rabb. The Chocolate Lover.
Speak (paperback edition). 2004. 185 pp.
Okay, it's confession time. I belong to one of the most clichéd girls' groups in all of America. Since the age of eight, I have been a proud (and if it was possible card-carrying member) of the "I want to be Nancy Drew when I grow up" club. She was my hero during those critical years where most girls seem to fit in nowhere, and she stood by me faithfully while I entered my teens. I had dozens of Nancy Drew mysteries, from The Secret of the Old Clock to The Mystery of 99 Steps. I gave them all away when I went to college after banishing them to the closet floor years before. But a few years ago I renewed my interest in Nancy and her pals and began picking up original editions from antique shops and used books stores. I'm sure I'm just being nostalgic and maybe even silly, but we should all be allowed to revisit our childhoods every now and again. And to be honest, I sometimes still wish I had become a "dashing girl detective." That probably explains why I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it's all based in youthful dreams of being the hero. (God help me, I feel like I should be paging a psychologist about now.)
There have been several other variations of the girl detective story since Nancy first hit the scene in 1930s, but finding a good series is not always easy. The plots may seem basic enough, but developing a believable mystery for young adults while also creating likeable characters is actually quite difficult. Recently I discovered a fabulous new series by author M.E. Rabb that has me contacting every young girl I know and insisting they read these books. While Nancy will always have a special place in my heart, I think that the Shattenberg sisters may have just usurped her as my detectives of choice.
In the Missing Persons series, Rabb has created two sisters, Sam and Sophie Shattenberg, who through a series of tragic circumstances have ended up orphaned and living in Venice, Indiana. Although the parents are both dead, they have not been dismissed by the author and play believable roles in the choices that the girls make. There is also an outstanding supporting cast, somewhat reminiscent of Cicely, Alaska or Stars Hollow, Vermont. The girls make friends both young and old and quickly settle into the small town rhythms of Venice. Along the way they stumble into a mystery and eventually find work with a local private detective. This sets them up for all sorts of future opportunities solving crimes and, as the series title suggests, finding missing persons.
I really like Sam and Sophie, and even more, I love Venice. The townspeople are all quirky and cool, and their developing relationships with the girls are a big part of the fun. The girls themselves are particularly deep characters, with Sophie's affection for writers from Anne Frank to Edna St Vincent Millay and Sam studying high finance and researching everything and anything on the internet. They watch old movies, drink Yoo Hoo in a crisis and aren't above a little breaking and entering for a good cause. They are both equally endearing, and in the first two mysteries, The Rose Queen and The Chocolate Lover, the Shattenberg sisters have easily placed themselves in the pantheon of girl detective literature. It's a little odd to me, though, that the publisher has chosen to market the duo as specifically Jewish, even going so far as to identify them in promotional material as a "perfect role models for Jewish teens." While they are certainly Jewish, this seemed to be a somewhat minor plot point and should not detract readers of any religious background from giving the books a try. I honestly have no idea if Nancy Drew even had a religion, but I never really cared. It was the mystery that drew me in, along with Bess and George and the convertible and everything else. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim? Didn't matter then and doesn't matter now. The Missing Persons mystery series is great for any audience, and young girls should be rushing out to buy them.
Move aside Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton and even, dare I say, Nancy Drew, for the next big thing has finally arrived! Now get yourselves a nice big sandwich, some chips and tall glass of ice tea and settle in to enjoy an afternoon with Sam and Sophie and all their friends in Venice.