CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 6. . . .October 9, 2015
Trouble is a Friend of Mine.
New York, NY: Kathy Dawson Books (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House), 2015.
334 pp., hardcover, $20.99.
Mystery and detective stories.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Wendy Phillips.
Here’s my first confession. I hung out with cool people, sure, but looking back, I think maybe we were friends only because we were in the same classes and our parents all got divorced around the same time. Digby calls them circumstantial friends. Right place, right time—it was easy to be friends, and so we were.
My friendship with Digby, on the other hand, while circumstantially convenient—he just shows up, after all—is not easy. Nothing with that guy ever is. At first, I thought I hung out with him because I was bored and wanted to get back at Mom for moving me here. Then I thought it was because he seemed so lost and alone all the time.
But now I’m standing outside a house wired with enough explosives to blow up our entire block into a pile of matchsticks, trying to figure out the best way to get back in, and I realize that really, I’m the one who’s been lost.
When her parents divorce and high school senior Zoe Webster moves with her mother to the small upstate New York town of River Heights, she thinks her world has turned upside down. But it’s only after she meets Philip Digby that things really start to get interesting.
Digby is rude, brilliant and annoying, and, before she knows it, Zoe is dragged into his dangerous—and hilarious—schemes to solve the kidnapping of a local teenaged girl, a kidnapping that may be connected to the tragic disappearance of his little sister eight years ago. Digby drives Zoe crazy, but she just can’t say no.
Digby may be irresistible, but Zoe can’t help wondering if he is brilliant or just crazy.
Careening through escapades of break-and-enter, drug smuggling and investigation of the mysterious cult family across the road, Digby, Zoe and “hero handsome” Henry unravel a complex and bizarre mystery. At the same time, Zoe tries to navigate the mean girl cliques at her school and keep her anxious mother and rigid father from messing her future up even more.
First-time author Stephanie Tromly has created an action-packed story full of snappy dialogue and laugh-out-loud plot twists. Though Zoe is arrested, kidnapped and shot at, her droll sarcasm keeps the tone light. From falling from a ceiling onto a gun-toting gynecologist to diving out the window of an exploding meth house, Zoe blows apart her good-girl persona, learns to take chances and learns to appreciate what friendship means. The ending leaves some of the mystery unsolved and the door open for a sequel.
Teen readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue, the roller-coaster action and the quirky characters, as well as the undercurrent of romance. Zoe’s sarcasm masks some genuine pain in the quest for belonging, both in her family and in her peer group. Funny exchanges and ridiculously wild plot twists will keep teens reading.
There are some issues with the writing. Much of the action is related in dialogue that becomes self-consciously clever, contributing to a sit-com-like quality, and occasionally flounders in its own cleverness.
As well, the characters are caricatures. Truant officer Harlan Musgrave is cartoonish in his exaggerated portrayal as a bullying authority. Digby, himself, though shown as brilliant and suffering from obsessive compulsive tendencies, is far too smart to be believable. Zoe’s dad, a “success machine”, is little more than a cardboard cut-out. Off-putting though they might be for some readers, the exaggeration and stereotypes lend a flippant tone and comic effect to the novel that will appeal to the adolescent funny bone.
Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, BC, and the author of the Governor General's Literary award-winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.
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