Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt; illustrated by Phil Gosier

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friday barnesFriday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt; illustrated by Phil Gosier
Roaring Brook, 2016.

Part two of R. A. Spratt week!

In this hilarious first book in a new series, Nanny Piggins creator R. A. Spratt introduces Friday Barnes, a very, very smart and forthright 11 year-old girl detective.

Friday is used to being ignored by her family of academics, and has cultivated invisibility elsewhere by using a combination of silence and brown cardigans, though this does mean she is rather lonely.

Friday loses herself in books and, after reading many detective novels, she realizes that “being a detective seemed to give a person license to behave very eccentrically indeed”, so she decides to start solving mysteries. When she gets $50,000 as a reward for solving a diamond theft and she spends it on a year’s tuition at Highcrest Academy, the country’s best school.

Discovering that she cannot remain unnoticed at Highcrest, Friday finds a friend and crime-solving partner in her roommate Melanie, who has all the emotional intelligence and social skills that Friday lacks, though is otherwise dumb as a plank. Together, they crack cases from missing homework to the identity of the swamp in the yeti. And as “life at an exclusive boarding school would be a lot more fun than she had imagined if there was a nemesis for her to thwart”, she luckily manages to find one: the distractingly dishy Ian Wainscott, who reacts very badly to no longer being the brightest pupil in the school.

Though this is more mainstream than the anarchic Nanny Piggins series, it is equally as laugh-out-loud on every page. The odd couple pairing of Friday and Melanie is not particularly original, but the author takes it to such extremes as to make it feel fresh. Friday’s unwittingly deadpan humor, along with sharp authorial pokes at teachers who don’t really like children, rich kids who go to fancy private schools, and parents who find their offspring inconvenient, makes the comedy drier and more sophisticated than you would typically find in an elementary grade book, while remaining accessible. It would work really well as a read aloud.

The illustrations are appealing, though unlike those by Dan Santat for the Nanny Piggins books, don’t quite capture the offbeat tone of the text. However, they do show a much more diverse student body than you would gather from the text.

With four books already published in Australia, readers will be pleased that the cliffhanger ending will undoubtedly be followed by more comical whodunits for Friday, Melanie and co. to unravel in their inimitable way.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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