Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
The only thing worse than a bad book is a mediocre one. Scarlett Undercover was mediocre. It has a great premise, and what should be a unique POV character. Unfortunately, the whole book was a disappointment. Scarlett’s narration is generic pulp-mystery, complete with painful similes. She’s Muslim – which is great for diversity in YA – but not too Muslim, lest it scare away readers. I felt like the author needed to commit more to this aspect of her character. The biggest thing for me was her name – why is Scarlett the only one in her family with an English name? Is it a nickname? It was distracting.
The weirdness of her being a 16-year-old high school graduate with an actual private detective business totally undercut my suspension of disbelief. The cops just trust her with confidential information?? Not likely. Scarlett’s also not a very good detective – basically everything is just told to her by other characters, in the author’s attempt to set up the worldbuilding. She has zero chemistry with the romantic interest. (Also, why is the font so big?? I had to check to make sure I hadn’t picked up a large-print version by mistake.)
No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney
Zero stars. To be completely honest, I did not finish this book. However, what I did read was so staggeringly awful that I feel the need to tell the world about it. No Such Person has some of the most stilted, awkward prose I’ve ever read in my life. The author seldom uses contractions, and many of the sentences are similar in length and style, creating a droning repetition. I had no connection to the characters: Lander is either a sociopath or a narcissist (or both), and Miranda is a spineless baby. She did not read at all like a teenager. I couldn’t even make it to 100 pages. (No wonder I could never finish The Face on the Milk Carton as a kid…)
The Innocents by Lili Peloquin
Boring as all hell. Absolutely nothing interesting happens in this book. The mystery doesn’t even show up until the third act. (And isn’t resolved – the author is dragging this out into a series.) Intensely unlikeable characters and gross “romances.” I cannot stress enough how little happens in this book. The author only gets the one star because the “gothic mystery” atmosphere was a success.
Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
This seemed like a middling three-star-novel until it took a turn for the better in the third act. Vanishing Girls has a similar sister dynamic to The Innocents, but executes far more successfully. A lot of seemingly unimportant scenes takes on new meaning once you’ve finished the book. I would call this more psychological suspense than a straight-out mystery, but really it has elements of both. The main character, Nick’s, emotional journey is the heart of the book. I’ve seen complaints that one of the main twists is cliche, but I think it was pulled off well.
Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn
Did not live up to my expectations. Latitude Zero, the sophomore effort by the same author, is far superior. Violet, Tokyo Heist‘s main character is an embarrassing weeaboo. It gave me flashbacks to myself at that age. She also seemed younger than her sixteen years; I would have pegged her as fourteen at the most. The mystery had the air of a Scooby Doo episode, with dumb adults and teens happily running around solving mysteries mostly through coincidence and accident. There are also a distracting number of typos in the version I read. I would describe it as a practice run for Latitude Zero; you can feel the seeds of an entertaining mystery and teen sleuth, but the author hadn’t quite found her feet yet.