31 July 2011


Young Detectives: C is for Clements

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to sign up for other people's Reading Challenges when the only ones I seem to give any attention to are my own. =P

If you're new to this exercise, the rule is simple. I read a YA or MG Mystery and write an open letter to the author about what I think of his "young detective."

You're very welcome to grab the badge and join in yourself. Let me know about your post and I'll link to yours in my next one. =)

The cover was just begging for this shot.
(Please don't ask me why some Christmas decorations are still up in my home.)

Dear Andrew Clements,

I have never been to the American Midwest, but I have a friend who was born there and who has lived most of his life there--and every good thing he has ever said about this part of your country seems to have gone into the character of your
Room One protagonist, Ted Hammond, who puts the heart in Heartland.

Ted is already the most unusual detective I've ever run into in a Mystery novel. I'm used to sleuths who are outsiders of some sort, and Ted totally subverts that convention. He's not just a solver of mysteries; he's also, at twelve years old, one of the strongest pillars of his community! I can totally see him growing up to be a successful farmer on the land that his father worked before him, a reliable family man in his own right, and maybe even mayor of his beloved Plattsford, Nebraska. And I see this because, in him, you give us a detective whose talent is not restoring order, but creating it.

Yet while I think Ted is a wonderful character, I'm not really sold on him as a sleuth. Yes, he has powers of observation worthy of Sherlock Holmes (or perhaps, Encyclopedia Brown?) and he collects clues as carefully as any cast member on C.S.I. . . . but his own values make the mystery secondary to all the other storylines woven through Room One. It doesn't really help, either, that the family he finds hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse are so quick to tell him who they are are and what they're doing there that he automatically shifts modes from detective to boy scout.

Heck, I'll bet you could edit all the Mystery elements from this novel, strengthen the scouting bits, and end up with the same essential story. But don't let some know-it-all blogger tell you how to write your books! =P

Friends of mine who love Mysteries and read them more often than I do have told me that, for all the genre's elements of crime and death, it is deeply conservative at core. When the mystery is solved, the traditional order of things is restored. Room One twists the formula a bit by turning the mystery from the threat to the solution.

Huge cynic though I am, I was touched by the way you wove together the dilemmas of a dying American small town and of military families feeling displaced by the deaths of members in the service. And I love the moral that one party's mystery is often another party's solution, and vice-versa. If only we all had a Ted Hammond to put two and two together for us, as yours does here!




Shaz said...

I had no idea there were YA and MG mysteries. This post has left me a bit wiser. :-)

Syrin said...

The Christmas decorations are up because you were celebrating Christmas in July, of course! :)

This sounds like a good read with a little more meaning and weight that the average YA novel.

Enbrethiliel said...


Shaz -- There are many of them, but they're harder to find than their adult counterparts. Nor do their authors come to mind at once when you're trying to make an A-Z list. The ones I've already featured--Jennifer Allison, John Bellairs and Andrew Clements--are writers I had never read before I started doing this!

I'm already planning on reading a retro Lois Duncan Mystery for my "D book." =)

Syrin -- Yeah, Christmas in July is exactly it. ;-)

The extra weight and meaning of Room One surprised me. At first I wasn't too happy about it, because it seemed to upstage the mystery; but then I realised it is what makes the book unique.

Katie said...

I love the idea of writing an open letter to the author. What a great post! I haven't been reading many mysteries lately, but I'm hoping to change that soon. I just need to get through all the books I have checked out of the library first!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Katie! An open letter format for what is essentially a review does change things up a bit--but in a very interesting way that I recommend to anyone. =)

And I know what you mean about needing to get through an existing stack of books before moving on to your next one. I have a "D author" in mind for my next Young Detectives post and just need to buy one of her books . . . but I've got a pile of other books I already own that I really should get to first!