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They’re Watching You

Jennifer Latham mixes mystery with religious mythology (plus a sassy teenage private eye) in her debut novel Scarlett Undercover.

They’re Watching You

BOOK REPORT for Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Cover Story: Excuse Me?
BFF Charm: Heck Yes!
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Fantastic Religious Noir
Bonus Factors: Teenage Private Eye, Diversity
Relationship Status: Need a Partner?

Cover Story: Excuse Me?

The girl on this cover has no time for your lame excuses or your ridiculous pickup lines. She’s got places to be, things to do, and can take care of herself, thank you very much.

(Also: Major pants to whomever designed this cover for actually paying attention to what the main character looks/dresses like.)

The Deal:

Although she never goes looking for trouble, Scarlett can’t help if it finds her. And if little Gemma Archer—with her suspicion about her brother’s best friend’s alleged suicide and her story of how different her brother’s been lately—doesn’t reek of trouble at first, it’s only a matter of time.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!

Scarlett is the kind of girl I wish I had been when I was her age, or, at the very least, the kind of girl I would have loved to be besties with. She’s super smart (both book and street) and uses her smarts for good rather than evil. She’s not a pushover, though, and she’s got wit in spades. Her mouth occasionally gets her in trouble, particularly with her elders and the more devout Muslims in her life, but when does a teenager’s mouth not get them in trouble? I also appreciate the fact that she’s not completely sure about what she wants to do with her life. Too often, YA protagonists are so certain about their futures, and that’s so not believable. (At least, for me: a 31-year-old who still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Much of the action in Scarlett Undercover is not of the swoon-worthy variety, but there are a few fleeting moments of sweetness between Scarlett and a longtime friend. Their relationship is in the very beginning of being more than just friendship in this book, but you can see hints of something that could lead to serious swoon in the future (or later books, if there will be any).

Talky Talk: Fantastic Religious Noir

Scarlett Undercover is less mystery than I expected (because I’m a sucker for marketing, maybe) and more urban fantasy with a unique religious twist. (Disclaimer: I’m not a Muslim, so I’m not sure how accurate the glimpses into the religion in the book are, but I’m trusting that Jennifer Latham did her homework.) The fact that the novel’s main character was a POC was a huge selling point in my wanting to read this book, also—diversity in YA is something we sorely need—but Latham, thankfully, never makes Scarlett’s minority status or religious beliefs a gimmick. Yes, Scarlett is Muslim-American, but that’s only part of who she is.

In addition to great character building, Latham has woven an intriguing mythology based on religious stories into the book. (Another disclaimer: As a non-religious person, I don’t think the religious stories are used in a negative or offensive way, but I could be wrong.) The mystery that leads Scarlett to discover this hidden world is a little underdeveloped, but I loved the discoveries she made while investigating.

Bonus Factor: Teenage Private Eye

I’ve seen Scarlett Undercover promoted as featuring “a Muslim-American Veronica Mars,” but the novel never felt like a Veronica Mars episode—and in this case, that’s a good thing. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge Veronica Mars fan. I love Veronica’s sass and intelligence. Scarlett has sass and intelligence in spades, too, but she also has to deal with a heavy helping of mythology, which Veronica never dealt with. So if you want to get super general, yes, both Scarlett Undercover and Veronica Mars feature sassy teenage private detective protagonists who live in California. That’s about where the similarities stop.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Not only are there many Muslim-American characters in Scarlett Undercover, but also there are black characters, Asian characters, mixed-race characters, non-American characters, and white characters in the book. It was awesome to read a book that featured so many different faces, accents, and backgrounds, but never made a point of pointing them out.

Casting Call:

Yara Shahidi as Scarlett

Relationship Status: Need a Partner?

OK, Book. I have a full time job that pays well and comes with great bennies, but, if you’d have me, I’d be willing to give it up to come and play in your world. I’m going to have to start taking some self-defense classes, and read up on my private eye rules and regulations, but I’m serious about this new career path. Just let me know.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Little, Brown Books. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Scarlett Undercover is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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