CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 23 . . . . February 19, 2016
Set in 1985 on Vancouver Island, BC, Frame and The McGuire tells the story of two siblings searching for answers after a loved one mysteriously drowns. Author Joanna M. Weston wastes no time setting up the whodunit on the opening page with Frame and her brother, Ranger, finding their Uncle Tam's body in a near by river. This startling start to the novel works well to immediately catch readers' attention and pull readers firmly into the story. A curmudgeonly neighbour, referred to as the McGuire, is quickly brought into focus as the suspected villain. Add this to a mistreated dog, stolen Victorian coins, and a few red herrings and the scene is set for Frame and Ranger to be the crime solving heroes their imagination suggests they are.
Unfortunately, the pages that follow fail to stand up to the strong beginning. Although clues leading to the truth behind Uncle Tam's death mount up easily, the mystery often feels slow to unravel. There is little sense of urgency present in the pages here. Despite the short length of the novel, the story takes its time meandering through less meaningful side stories, like that of older sister Bird and her new university life as well as the daily chore requirements of the farm.
Throughout the novel, readers are introduced to several characters and family members. The plethora of names becomes difficult to sift through as little is provided about these individuals. Even with the main character, Frame, little is offered to flesh out her personality other than details of meals with odd taste combinations and a mid novel reveal about the origin of her name. With these skeletal character outlines, readers are likely to struggle to connect to Frame's family and friends. This is a critical misstep in the book. Without any emotional attachments to the characters, it's difficult to become invested in the story and care about the ultimate reveal of the specifics surrounding Uncle Tam's death. The one exception here is Amanda. Best friend and schoolmate of Frame, Amanda offers the most memorable character description and provides an authentic and spirited touchstone for both Frame and readers. Dressed in bright mismatched clothes to match the loud volume of her personality, Amanda provides a much needed splash of vibrancy in an otherwise drab novel.
Thankfully the ending offers a dramatic final scene to help reveal the truth to Frame and her family and provide closure to the death of Uncle Tam. The conclusion also successfully ties together each clue stumbled upon and explains its purpose and performance in the crime. There is thoughtfulness in how Weston lays out the ending of her novel with a solid understanding of her target audience. Adolescents and young adults can readily connect these dots and may be eager to look back in previous pages to find less obvious hints towards the identity of Uncle Tam's killer.
Overall, Frame and The McGuire is a bland yet somewhat satisfactory novel for young readers who enjoy mysteries. What it lacks in character depth and development is satiated with an organized layout of clues and tidy resolve to the who, why, and how questions prompted in the novel's opening scene.
Recommended with Reservations.
Amy Westbury is a teacher librarian at Bruce Trail Public School in Milton, ON.
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