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I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

Alix reviews Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl, a mystery novel about Emily Dickinson, Teen Detective.

I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

BOOK REPORT for Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl

Cover Story: Misleading
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Easy Breezy
Bonus Factors: Emily Dickinson, Bees, Stars Hollow, Mysterious Loner Dead Guy
Relationship Status: Summer Fling

Cover Story: Misleading

This is a classic case of Big Face/Partial Bodies, but I don’t actually mind its general aesthetic. (I think it’s the font that’s persuading me. I’m a sucker for good typefaces.) What I take issue with is the fact that this is the cover for a completely different book than the one I read. It makes Nobody's Secret seem like some sort of romantic ghost story, which it just isn’t. The tagline, “a novel of intrigue and romance,” doesn’t help either. Cover designers, this is not a kissing book and you know it. Please stop.

The Deal:

Fifteen year old Emily Dickinson (yes, that Emily Dickinson) is overcome with ennui. Having recently come off the end of a long bout of illness, she feels trapped at home with her perfect sister, her paranoid, semi-invalid, puritanical mother, and a father who is torn between his belief in education and a desire for his daughters to be respectable, boring housewives someday. Emily, who dreams of being a poet, spends most of her time shirking her chores and getting in trouble, much to her family’s dismay. When Emily stumbles upon a handsome stranger who seems to understand her when no one else does, she is instantly smitten. Could this Mr. Nobody be Emily’s secret summer romance?

Well, no. No he can’t. Because the next day, he shows up dead in Emily’s pond. And Emily spends the rest of the book trying to figure out why.

BFF Charm: Nay

I can be pretty stingy with my BFF charms, but Emily is an exception in the “Nay” category. I love Emily! She’s delightfully weird. But I just can’t picture being BFFs with the girl. She’s the friend you bump into every couple of years and share a spontaneous, memorable day that you later recount to all your actual BFFs in great detail. But being intimate friends with Emily never seems like a possibility either of us would want to pursue. One, it sounds exhausting to keep up with her; two, she’s too much of a loner to want to hang out with me on the regular; and three, she’s a walking cartoon character. She’s hilarious in small doses, but her morbidity would get real old real fast. Furthermore, I don’t really want to know what is going on in her head. It’s much more fun to keep her inner workings a mystery.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Mr. Nobody is pretty good at flirting, but then he goes and DIES before chapter three, which kind of puts a damper on the progression his and Emily’s relationship. Luckily, there is a bumper crop of handsome young strangers in Amherst this summer, because a classmate’s older brother, Henry, shows up, and he’s pretty dreamy, too. However, I couldn’t really feel swoony about their relationship either. Emily essentially uses Henry as a surrogate for her feelings for Mr. Nobody. Since 95% of that infatuation is a product of Emily’s imagination anyway, I was extra not on board with this dynamic.

Talky Talk: Easy Breezy

For all its morbidity, this is a solidly middle grade mystery. I flew through the pages, not really stopping to take note of the writing. This is not a bad sign at all; on the contrary, this was a nice change of pace from some of the books I’ve been slogging through lately. When things are poorly written, they often take forever to finish because I get so distracted by weird syntax or what have you. In contrast, MacColl’s writing allowed me skip right along, enjoying the story.

The mystery itself was not the most complex, but I found that I didn’t care. I prefer chuckle-inducing characterization to intense plotting anyway.

“It’s a shame that your family has been bothered. I hope you aren’t too distressed.”

“Of course I’m distressed. He had no business dying in our pond.” Mrs. Dickinson’s voice was accusing.

“Mother, I doubt he was worried about inconveniencing the Dickinsons when he drowned,” Emily said sharply.

Everything Emily’s mother says is kinnnd of hilarious.

Bonus Factor: Emily Dickinson

I’m not a huge Emily Dickinson fan (an extension of not being a huge poetry fan, in general), but I enjoy this pseudo-genre of historical fan-fiction. Is the depiction of Emily and her family 100% accurate? I suspect not, and Emily Dickinson superfans/history buffs might take issue with some of the events in the book. But I think it’s fun, and I enjoy how Emily’s morbidity and loner tendencies feed her obsessive drive to solve Mr. Nobody’s mystery.

Bonus Factor: Bees

Emily Dickinson was all about the bees, and so am I. I mean, they’re not as cool as bats, but they’re pretty great all the same. I'm currently harboring an impractical yet specific fantasy where I spend next summer counting bees in Kenya. FOR (actual) SCIENCE! Yay pollinators!

Bonus Factor: Stars Hollow

Why hello, tiny New England town where everyone is all up in your business. Nice to meet you, Stars Hollow Amherst, MA. The best part about this setting is that Emily fancies herself some kind of super sleuth, when in reality she’s about as subtle as a sack of bricks to the face. Given the gossipy nature of the town, everyone knows exactly what she’s up to.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dead Guy

MacColl sees your MLD, YA writers, and raises you a Mysterious Loner Dead Guy. He’ll never reveal his secrets! You know, cause he’s dead.

Casting Call:

Evanna Lynch as Emily Dickinson

Austin Butler as Mr. Nobody

Chord Overstreet as Henry

Relationship Status: Summer Fling

This book came along at just the right time. After weeks of being locked away writing papers, I submitted my last assignments and emerged from my study cave to find longer days, walks on the beach, and the pub. And that’s when I bumped into this book. Our romance was short-lived, but I’ll remember those brief moments we shared for the rest of summer, while I’m going out with an endless string of boring academic articles on corporate social responsibility and wishing we were still frolicking in a field of wildflowers and bees instead.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Chronicle Books. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Nobody’s Secret is available now.

Better still, want to win your own copy? Visit this giveaway post (US and Canada only).

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.
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