Allison's Book Bag

The Mystery of Shadow Hills by Carrie Cross

Posted on: May 23, 2014

Carrie Cross enjoys reading middle-grade mysteries, and so she wrote one about a thirteen-year-old sleuth named Skylar Robbins. After she began to receive requests for detective kits, Cross decided that she would try to establish Skylar as the new Nancy Drew. Publishers are crying for mysteries and so I have no doubt that Cross can help fill a neglected niche. As to whether she can pull off a modern-day Nancy Drew series, that is the bigger question.

In children’s fiction, obsessive heroes and heroines tend to stand out. For example, few people who encounter Harriet the Spy ever forget her. Skylar also has an obsession; she has always wanted to be a private detective like her grandfather. For years she has collected items for her detective kit. Her items are an intriguing mix of tools, from an ordinary penlight to pink Super-Zoom binoculars. The binoculars are especially versatile, as they allow her to spy on criminals as well as—boys. Skylar stores these items in her grandfather’s old leather briefcase, which she carries with her almost everywhere. But Skylar isn’t collecting items just to have them. When she needs evidence to show that her cousin is stealing from her, she whips out her fingerprinting equipment. Upon finding a mysterious key, she pulls out her mold-making equipment. Eventually, Skylar even finds herself using her detective kit to stop a bad guy.

Apart from her passion for sleuthing, Skylar is also an adolescent with the usual adolescent dilemmas. For example, Skylar’s parents are going on a summer trip to Europe without her. This means Skylar’s thoughts are on her upcoming visit to her aunt and uncle’s creepy home. In particular, she worries about her cousin, who, in a twist, functions as the story’s bully rather than as a peer. This angst is compounded by concerns about summer school. Then there’s the loneliness of being away from her best friend, whom she texts on a daily basis until Skylar is caught up in a drama with her new friend, Kat. Kat latches onto Skylar and introduces her to magic, which causes Skylar to question everything she’s been taught. How was Kat able to create an electrifying force with her hands? How did she gain control over Skylar’s legs? More remarkably, how did she cause jewels to grow from plant seeds?

What stops me from whole-heartedly recommending the first Skylar Robbins’ mystery, The Mystery of Shadow Hills, is the exploration of magic—but not for reasons you might expect. Kat is a Wiccan. I don’t agree with this religion, but that isn’t my issue here. As a Wiccan, Kat likes to create spells, although mostly innocent ones such as love potions. From everything I read online about Wicca, Kat’s beliefs and practices seem to have been portrayed accurately. What bothers me instead is the eventual harsh judgment of Wicca. Cross could have simply allowed Skylar to use scientific evidence to dispute Kat’s supernatural powers, but instead she goes further by describing Wiccans as losers and as lonely and shallow people “who needed something to believe in.” Because Skylar’s cousin is eventually rehabilitated, only the book’s Wiccan characters are portrayed as remaining bad. This condemnation of Wiccans casts an unnecessary shadow over the whole book.

Skylar is both polite but pushy, caring but curious, and smart but susceptible. In other words, like Nancy Drew, she is a likeable character who also has a penchant for getting herself into predicaments. With her analytical and observant mind, she also has a knack for identifying criminals and their misdeeds. If she loses the dismissive attitude, Cross could have a trendy series on her hands.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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