I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I adore books written from the point of view of a child narrator. I mean, it doesn’t always work… the author has to nail their all-knowing childish innocence and their voice has to be authentic, but when that happens; it can be amazing.
Which is the case with this new release, The Nancys by RWR McDonald, set on New Zealand’s south island.
by R.W.R. Mcdonald
Published by Allen & Unwin
on June 3rd 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literary Fiction, General Fiction
Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world - the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum's on a cruise.
Tippy is in love with her uncle's old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher's body is found beside Riverstone's only traffic light, Tippy's moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.
But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy's mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.
I read Nancy Drew but didn’t ‘love’ her. I was more of a Trixie Belden girl. But I completely get the allure of someone like the emboldened Nancy and am pretty sure my childhood bestie and I were wannabe crime-solvers when young. Of course there were no crimes to be solved in our little quiet town so that stifled our adventures somewhat.
Anyhoo… the delightfully-named Tippy Chan (who her uncle refers to by her full-name more often than not) is a Nancy Drew devotee and inherited the books her Uncle Pike had bought decades earlier.
I had to put this book down part-way through and was devastated as I was enjoying it so much. In fact, my reading notes have ‘I ADORE THIS’ scribbled across them in non-angry capitalised letters.
It has everything. The characters are fabulous. Tippy is adorable, her mum is a hoot and neighbours (ummm) quirky. Tippy’s gay uncle and his fashion designer partner Devon could easily be cliches but they’re not. And I love how unabashedly they bring their (larger and gayer-than-life) personalities into Tippy’s world.
And though Pike detests his hometown of Riverstone and all it stood for, Sydney-sider Devon is beside himself at the quaint authenticity it has to offer. And I also love that McDonald communicates that through Devon’s ACTUAL delight which is a nice change from someone being judgemental or taking the piss.
There’s a sense of irreverence in McDonald’s writing and in the characters’ personalities and attitudes, but there’s also an underlying sense of goodness or earnestness and positivity.
Simmering away in the background is the untold story of Tippy’s father’s death nine months earlier. We know he was hospitalised before dying and we know there’s more to the story. But McDonald very deftly doles out details (#accidentalalliteration) slowly and in a way that has readers waiting to know more, but patiently doing so…. knowing we’ll be told when the time is right.
There’s a sense of small town claustrophobia but Riverstone offers surprises, particularly through some characters bucking the usual stereotypes. And of course there’s the mystery of the dead teacher which The Nancys are taking very seriously.
Although… and you know I’m picky… I have to say I wasn’t entirely sure about this element. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m not actually sure the book needed it. I know it pulled the plot along but (for me) the best part of this book were the fabulous characters and their stories. I was contented with their ups and downs and didn’t really need the several anticlimaxes offered by the ‘whodunit’. And both ‘a-ha’ moments had me a little confused; given the state of mind of the suspect and how they played out in a kinda outlandishly OTT way.
I would have been happy to cut that chunk of story out* and read what was left because obviously this is a story about pain and grief. And one about living and moving on.
We slowly learn more about Tippy’s father, the lead-up and circumstances of his death and how it’s impacted on Tippy and her mum.
But the point is, Tippy, we’re not always fine. None of us, and that’s okay. Sad? Fuck yes. And never, ever do you need anyone’s permission to feel what you’re feeling. That’s all your own….
But it is also your job to find the beauty in life, and sometimes on a day like today that’s not easy….
… because on days like these that’s when it’s the most important to find it, and also what makes is so beautiful when you do. p 210
Pike’s (longer than usual) visit also brings a lot of other family stuff to the surface and those unresolved issues rear their ugly head. Of course the confrontations are well overdue and a reminder of how things unsaid can fester.
Other than the veracity of the story around (Tippy’s friend) Todd’s accident and then the murder this might have almost been a very rare 5-star book for me, but even given my tough marking this 4 (+) stars puts it up with my favourites so far this year.
The Nancys by RWR McDonald will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* I felt something similar about Kate Van Hooft’s We See The Stars last year.