The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, is a delightful mystery read, and a definite thumbs up for sleuth girls and boys everywhere.
Eleven year old Lady Ada Byron (genius, social-awkward, recluse) is not having a very good day. Everything is changing, and Ada doesn’t take well to change; her old caretaker, Miss Coverlet, is leaving, Percy, or ‘Peebs’ the new tutor is annoying, and Misses Cabbage and Cummerbund (no, Arugula and Aubergine?) are mucking up Ada’s routine, which she has become most accustomed to. The only things in Ada’s small world she has left are her loyal silent butler, Mr. Franklin, her hot air balloon, and of course her dear, inanimate books. The Outside has come knocking, and Ada isn’t ready; being eleven and a genius is hard and strangely confusing. But someone has to do/be it.
Good thing Mary Godwin is at the door.
Mary Godwin: Fourteen, curious, adventuresome, entirely brave and very kind and romantic (though, not in a smoochy way), is on her way by carriage, unchaperoned, sitting across from a mysterious boy pretending not to be there, to the house of the great, dead poet Lord Byron, to be tutored alongside an actual, real life Lady.
Well, imaginative Mary Godwin thinks so.
When Ada and Mary meet, it is not exactly friendship at first sight. However, Mary in time wins Ada over, and the two fall steadfast into friendship. Mary takes her studies with Peebs seriously; Ada reads the newspaper (a sudden fascination—the world at her fingertips without ever having to leave her cocoon! Marvelous!), but a lot of rubbish is in the newspaper. Contradictory, poorly researched, rubbish. But one thing is interesting: Crime. Why wouldn’t crime be interesting to a genius eleven year old Lady? But criminals aren’t terribly clever, Ada deduces. At least, not the ones in the newspaper. However, the criminals that manage to escape the newspaper are surely clever. But, are they cleverer than girl genius Ada?
[Ada] pondered. “So the newspaper criminals are the not-clever ones, and the ones that aren’t in the newspaper must be clever.”
“Not as clever as you, I’m sure.” said Mary.
“Probably not,” admitted Ada. She wasn’t boasting; it was just very likely to be true.
“I imagine,” said Mary, her mind returning to her book, “that you could apprehend quite a few criminals. Being more clever than they.”
And so the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency is born.
Now of course, being young girls makes being a detective agency difficult, but this book is all about defying social norms and expectations. These are two savvy girls who think for themselves, face danger, and solve crimes! Pooh on expectations! Bring on the mystery! When Mary and Ada’s first case, involving a stolen heirloom and fishy suspects, shows up on the girls’ doorstep, they aren’t expecting the mesmerizing rollercoaster ride of intrigue and surprises. But working together, and overcoming problems with teamwork and tolerance of each other’s differences, the girls work some young magic, and take the reader along for the ride!
This is a good book, and a great book for children—boys and girls.
It is clear that the target audience is for girls, hoping to spread some empowerment and self-agency. After all, we still live in a pretty patriarchal world; Jordan Stratford has been inspired by the little ladies in his life, and wants to give them a voice, that involves wits and smarts and nothing smoochy. This is great, as there is indeed a lackluster amount of lady geniuses in literature. But constantly striving to empower the impressionable girls in our lives and neglecting to educate the boys is counterintuitive; get this book for your sleuth son, too. The purple cover may dispel any enthusiasm he might have had, so read it to him. On that point, read it to all your kids! It’s fun, festooned with great imagery, and full of vocabulary to fill your kid’s head up with. (Clandestine and gondola and fishmonger—oh my!)
I’ll also add that the illustrations in this book are lovely. Kelly Murphy’s detailed yet whimsical pencil fashion is wonderful, adding to the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency’s charm. The pictures are a perfect accompaniment to Jordan Stratford’s style, and Kelly Murphy captures the characters and the feel of old London fetchingly. It won me over entirely.
Ada and Mary are great heroines, each unique in their own way and not at all perfect. Ada is rude and sometimes downright unpleasant; Mary is compassionate but not always so bright. Their internal narratives are accurate to their ages, which I particularly appreciated. Lots of writers when they pen out kid geniuses often tend to forget that they are still children—but not Jordan Stratford. Ada Byron is eleven, and it shows. Emotions are messy and selfishness sometimes abounds, but that is okay, because Mary is there to help. The side characters are all enjoyable, with their own special stories and backgrounds. Just enough for a full narrative but not too much; this is a children’s book, people. Relax and enjoy the adventure.
Now, is this a 100% show-stopping book that every kid needs on their shelf and all the books hereafter? No. The beginning is a slight bit slow and sometimes the dialogue gets a tad circle-like (get on with it!), and the story in and of itself is plain, and nothing exceptional. It’s a kids mystery. This isn’t A Wrinkle in Time, here. (But really, this isn’t fair, because could anything ever be?) But, a worthy book, and a worthy beginning to a (dare I say?) great children’s book series? Absolutely. What is especially great is the actual history interwoven into this book. Some of you may have noticed, but there are some pretty impressive figures laced into this work: Ada and Mary? Wollstonecraft? Byron? Ah yes, some of you have surely picked up upon who these two bright-young-crime-solving ladies are. But I won’t spoil the fun. If you’re so curious, I suggest some investigation, and maybe a bit of Wikipedia searching. If you read this book, you’ll certainly have a bit of an itch for solving some mysteries.
Give the Wollstonecraft Detectives a try. Are you a boy? Girl? Investigator? Or maybe you’re like me; an upper twenty’s something that never outgrew her Pippi Longstockings and just likes a good adventure for the weekend.
The end of this book is something special. I’d recommend it.
Four out of Five Stars for The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, the Case of the Missing Moonstone. Go get’em, girls.