At the start of this rather lacklustre mystery, the battling O’Fines family is in Los Angeles for oldest daughter Whee’s wedding. 12 year-old Jessica is looking forward to the pre-wedding dinner, but is obliged to stay in the hotel room to look after her brother’s baby, Ruby. She consoles herself by going into the ensuite bathroom to try on Whee’s bridal dress and make-up, but when she comes out, Jess is horrified to find the baby has disappeared. Ashamed and scared, she decides to find Ruby herself with the assistance of her older sister Teddy.
The O’Fines are quickly sketched out: amiable but sloppy Dad is divorced from cougar Mum, and hapless brother Danny is married to astringent Beet. The heart of the book, however, is Jessica and Teddy and their close relationship. Though they appear to be opposite ends of the behavior spectrum – Jess is the compliant, good girl; Teddy is the shoplifting bad girl – these are just different reactions to a deep-seated anger about their circumstances. Over the course of the novel, the fractured family starts to pull together, and Jess and Teddy both realize that they need to be true to themselves.
But the mystery is lame and it just doesn’t hang together – though there is a motive, the kidnappers’ plan seems entirely random and doesn’t actually make sense, the red herrings are very pale pink at best, and the resolution is weakly straightforward without the hint of twist. And I just didn’t find Jess’s actions credible – even my son, who can be rather dimwitted at times, would know that when a baby disappears you tell an adult immediately and don’t wander around looking for clues. (It should be noted that I was reading an ARC, so maybe it’s been tightened up).
This is really pretty feeble, and upper elementary/lower middle grade kids looking for mysteries would do way better with Wendelin Van Draanen’s Sammy Keyes series or one of Peter Abraham’s Outlaws of Sherwood Street or Echo Falls books, all of which are much better plotted and written.