Lauren Child’s works are aimed a bit younger than my usual fare, but her picture books are so quirkily adorable and hilarious that I find them irresistible*, and her chapter books about Clarice Bean have the same sort of feel. They’re childlike without being childish, offbeat and imaginative while still feeling grounded in reality, and just as enjoyable for adult readers as young ones.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on Ellen Potter's 'The Humming Room.'
Now, like the cool kids everywhere, Child’s gone meta. Yes, that’s right. Ruby Redfort, Clarice Bean’s favorite fictional heroine, finally gets to star in her own book. As described by Clarice, Ruby Redfort has always sounded like a cross between Nancy Drew and James Bond in the body of a schoolgirl**. Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes tells the story of Ruby’s first job with the supersecret “we work outside the government but not against the government” spy agency Spectrum.
Bad news first. Nancy Drew and James Bond both suffer from Style Over Substance syndrome, and unfortunately, so does Ruby Redfort. The book is so much a send-up of the genre that it never turns into anything more—in a short skit or even a short story, it could definitely work, but 400 pages of two-dimensional characters and deliberately hammy dialogue gets grating. Worse, it gets boring.
But now for the brighter side. In parts, or maybe read in small doses, it’s funny, clever and exciting. Ruby’s scenes with her best friend, Clancy Crew (Get it? Get it?), come the closest to feeling like real interactions between real people; the spy gadgets are fun (secret messages via toast!); and since the villains don’t get much screen time, their over-the-top nature never crosses the line from Entertainingly Silly to Just Plain Annoying. While some of the running jokes get old, others work well throughout. For instance, Ruby’s parents are written as cocktail-swigging socialites, nice enough, but oblivious and dim-witted, and their dialogue frequently made me laugh out loud. Lines like, “And what about those Alps! Talk about high.” made them sound like Zeeney and Wallace*** from Louise Fitzhugh’s The Long Secret, except, you know, not hateful.
So, while I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, I’m confident that this book will find its audience. Ruby’s skill with code-breaking may well appeal to younger fans of the Mysterious Benedict Society series, and after all, despite her flaws, Nancy Drew still commands a sizable fan base. I very much suspect that Ruby Redfort will appeal to that same demographic.
*I’m not alone in that, as I’ve caught my husband—on more than one occasion—all alone in the living room, watching the Charlie and Lola cartoon. Even better, I just told him that I outed him, and he started wandering around the house saying (in a terrible, terrible British accent), “Charrrrlieeee....”
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.