Mini Reviews: The Girl I Used To Be, Scarlett Undercover, The Heartbeats of Wing Jones

The Girl I Used To Be by April Henry
title: The Girl I Used To Be
author: April Henry
pages: 390
format: Audiobook
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
genre: Mystery
topics: Found Family, Murder

All her life, Olivia has assumed that her father murdered her mother and then fled, just like everyone else. But when parts of her father's body are found in the woods near where her mom was killed, everything changes. Now it's a presumed double-homicide. Olivia moves back to her home town to investigate, enlisting the help of a boy she used to be friends with along the way.

It's a fairly decent bit of mystery that has a good payoff at the end, with lots of red herrings and an unexpected bad guy. The book did a good job of building up the tension and slowly doling out clues to the mystery without it feeling stilted. But the real heart of it was Olivia's journey of trying to redefine herself after believing she had a murderous, abandoning father her whole life. There's a lot of time spent in self-reflection and discovery that I liked.

However, a lot of the book felt...too easy? Olivia is an emancipated minor, which already feels a little bit like a cheat. Yay, no guardians to worry about, she can just move towns on a dime. Oh and she can afford to move towns. Oh and she can get a new job in mere days. Oh, and here this best friend and helpful neighbor just fell into her lap. Once the mystery got going it was okay, but the set up felt like it didn't start in the right place and took a lot of "conveniences" to move to the proper starting point.



Contagion by Erin Bowman
title: Scarlett Undercover
author: Jennifer Latham
pages: 320
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: DNF
genre: Mystery
topics: Biracial character, Muslim character, Cults


Scarlett is a smart-ass, sarcastic teen with her own detective agency. When 9-year old Gemma hires her to look into her bother's mysterious personality shift, Scarlett stumbles onto some legitimately concerning cult practices that might be tied to a mysterious artifact left behind by her deceased father. The further Scarlett gets into the mystery the more convinced she becomes that solving it will also lead to her father's killer.

I did appreciate the set-up for this novel, which made no sense but in a very Spy Kids sort of way. Like, throw logic out the window and just make a noir novel about a teen detective, who cares! Why isn't she in school? How the hell did she get her own office space? Psh, this is pure escapist fantasy, we don't have time for those kinds of questions. Taking all that setup stuff as a given and just running with it really made it all work.

Unfortunately, that's the end of my praise for Scarlett Undercover. It's painfully clear from the very start that this character was written by a white woman. Scarlett is thoroughly divorced from her religion and her culture, even calls attention to that fact, and only brings any scraps of that stuff in when it relates to the pseudo-mystic-magical McGuffin at the center of the detective story. The mystery has far too many coincidences to be entertaining and Scarlett's "noir detective" voice is grating after a while. There was barely an attempt to put a 15 year-old spin on that kind of dialogue (which would have made it fun) so it wound up severely out of place given the characters.



title: The Heartbeats of Wing Jones
author: Katherine Webber
pages:336
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
genre: Contemporary
topics: Biracial character, Family, Sports, Grief


Wing Jones doesn't mind living in her brother's shadow; she looks up to her football start brother. But one night he gets in a drunk driving accident that kills two people, injures a third, and leaves Marcus in a coma. Suddenly Wing doesn't know what to do with herself and becomes a pariah at school, until she finds track and learns that her speed could turn things around for her family.

Also she hallucinates a lion and a dragon and that shit comes out of nowhere and really bothered me. It didn't add anything, and seemed to play on Wing's ethnicity as "magical" in a way that...just wasn't incorporated enough to make me think the white author had done the research necessary to make it NOT exotifying.

Wing's family, her grandmothers especially, were a great part of the novel and it was nice to see such a strong inter-generational group of people supporting each other. But after the initial emotional fallout from the accident, the novel got fairly repetitive and seemed to go off a different track, leaving behind the Marcus plotline for the sake of Something Totally Different. The book felt like two plots that weren't enough for whole books themselves so they got shoved together to make one full-length novel.

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