Friday, May 8, 2015

Alexandra Fry, Private Eye by Angella Graff


Title: Alexandra Fry, Private Eye
Author: Angella Graff
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"...had similar Coat of Arms" should be "Coats of Arms"
"...buku bucks"?! She means "beaucoup bucks", beaucoup being French for very many.

This is a middle-grade leading into young-adult story about a girl who can see ghosts and has suffered for it by being labeled Loopy Lexi as her old school. Now she's moving up to middle school and has the chance to hide her past and start over. She can do this because the move coincides with her mom moving to a new home across town which happens to be in a different school district. Her dad is not living with her mom, and her older sister is in college already, so it's just Alexandra and her mom. And her new friend Penelope, who quickly spots that something is going on with Alexandra, and finally gets her to spill the beans as to her behavior.

Alexandra's ghosts are not your regular everyday characters. They seem, for reasons unexplained, to be the cream of ghostly society. For example, her last visitor in her old school was Ferdinand Magellan - yes, he of the straits. In her new school, she is once again accosted in the middle of a class by a new ghost - this time it's Elizabeth the first - of England, not of Britain as this author has her state. While there were Britons, there was no Britain during Elizabeth's reign, so she never would have introduced herself with "My name is Elizabeth, Queen of Britain." I know this is a kids book but that doesn't mean they deserve less respect than do adults in their reading material.

This is a problem with having old ghosts (or with time-travel novels). Do you have them speak in Elizabethan English and risk sounding pretentious or worse, being misunderstood, or do you say the hell with it and have them speak modern English and hope your middle-grade audience isn't as sophisticated as an adult audience? It's the author's choice of course, but it needs to be made very carefully, and Elizabeth was a bit too modern and sounded fake. What bothered me here though is that Alexandra simply took it at face value that this was Elizabeth without any questioning or any attempt to verify it. I don't like dumb lead characters, and it sets a poor example for kids.

Here's something which bothered me more. In the middle of chapter six, Alexandra goes to visit her father. Elizabeth 1.0 had told her that a locket had been stolen and if it wasn't recovered, then disaster would befall the town. How Liz knew it was gone, but didn't know who took it goes unexplained. Alexandra decides to visit her dad after school, in the museum where he works. She declares:

Even when it was his weekend, he mostly just ordered me pizza and handed over the TV remote while he was shut up in his study doing stuff for the museum. I mean he was a great dad...

I'm sorry but the last sentence definitely doesn't follow what's gone immediately before it. In what way, exactly, was he a great dad? I really do not like this kind of writing. He sounds like a deadbeat to me. Here's more evidence:

The good news was my dad was good friends with the guy who owned the coffee shop, so knowing him, he’d get into some half-hour conversation and totally forget I was still out here.

Here's another such quote:

I'd always liked staying my dad's place, even though he was usually too busy to spend time with me.

The hilarious thing is that after all these statements of clear neglect on the part of her dad, we then get the absurdity of him going on about her wanting to go over to a friend's house on a Saturday afternoon, with a girlfriend. The other friend is male, but seriously? If you don't know your daughter well enough to trust her, or worse, you failed your daughter by not putting in the time it takes to raise her properly (which is clearly the case here given how frequently Alexandra tells us he leaves her to her own devices while he goes off to do something he evidently prefers over spending time with his daughter), he has no business raising issues here.

Elizabeth claims that one of the Ainsworth family stole her sister's jewels (presumably she's talking about Queen Mary) "and burned for it," but they never actually burned people for theft. They had lots of other horrible things they could do back then, trust me. Again with the historical inaccuracy. Fiction is entitled to be fiction, but there's no reason at all why real historical people cannot be made as authentic as is reasonably possible. This writer struck me as simply lazy or uncaring and it showed in her writing. Kids deserve better.

Alexandra continually sets bad examples by running around late at night and breaking into places. This is a really poor role model for children of this age.

This last one was what decided it for me: I was rating this negatively:

"I promise," I said, but that was probably a lie.

'This isn't a good thing to have young kids even thinking, let alone asserting. There wasn't even a moment's hesitation or any attempt at hedging here. She knowingly and with no good reason, outright lied to her parent. I know all kids fib here and there, especially if they think the truth will get them into trouble, and sometimes there are good reasons given for lies in stories like this, but this was not one of those cases. Alexandra's behavior does not set any kid of good example, shows her lack of integrity and honestly, and certainly doesn't make me respect this kid or want to read about her. I can't rate a book positively when it fails on as many levels as this one did.


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