Flavia de Luce.
I first met her in 2011. She reminded me of myself at her age—a girl too smart for her own good. She made me laugh out loud with her quirks and unabashed self-praise. Sometimes wise beyond her years and sometimes every bit an 11-year-old girl, her way of looking at the world was a refreshing change.
Years ago I belonged to a book club—back when I had a little more free time for reading books. When we were assigned to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I think I was expecting a light romance or coming-of-age story. I definitely wasn’t expecting a mystery with an 11-year-old, chemistry-obsessed sleuth. It was smart and funny in a way I hadn’t seen before. Three books had been published by the time I read the first and I flew through them all in days.
Since the publication of this first book in 2009, author Alan Bradley has written a new mystery starring Flavia de Luce basically every year. The most recent installment, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, came out just a few weeks ago. I look forward to each new book the way most of us looked forward to Harry Potter books. Once a new book arrives, all other non-scripture reading is put on hold. I’ve stopped checking to see how many pages there are in the book. With the most recent one, I didn’t even read the teaser on the back until I had finished the first chapter (by which time most of the events in the teaser had already happened). I just wanted to enjoy the story—enjoy being back in Flavia’s world and trying to solve the mystery along with her.
It amazes me how well a septuagenarian man can write in the voice of a preteen girl. I feel like I can relate to Flavia in so many ways. She struggles to fit in but isn’t ashamed of the traits that make her different from those around her. She is learning to navigate the world while still being true to herself. Flavia is full of courage—unafraid to take on the adult world around her without really losing her innocence. A female writer might try to analyze Flavia and make her a feminist warrior, but in the care of Alan Bradley, she is a real, spunky young girl with flaws and strengths, without an underlying agenda.
I admire Mr. Bradley for allowing Flavia to have childlike moments. He isn’t forcing her to grow up too fast. She is allowed to experience wonder and joy in the unknown, without jumping to conclusions before she has examined and tested all of the facts.
If you are looking for something a little out-of-the-ordinary, I highly recommend becoming acquainted with Flavia de Luce. You will also meet her trusty bicycle Gladys, her good friend and father-figure Dogger, and her unusual family. With the start of every new book, it isn’t a question of how many stars I will rate it, but will it be a 4-star or 5-star book? The characters are consistent from book to book, so it will never earn anything less.
Originally Published February 2018