Picture yourself at age 11. What were your hobbies? What was the best prank you pulled? What were your favorite replacement curse words?
And, most importantly, what were your favorite homebrewed poisons? How much faster could you identify the effects of those poisons on a dead body compared to the nearest Detective Inspector?
Eleven is an age of unquenchable intellectual curiosity and untiring confidence in one’s own abilities, no matter what the grown-ups around you believe. It’s an age when life’s grimmer complexities become more tangible, but it’s also an age when there’s still daily wonder in being a kid.
Eleven is a fantastic age; most of the best people I know are 11.
Alan Bradley’s indefatigable amateur sleuth, Flavia de Luce—fictional though she may be—is one of the best people I know. And her answers to the survey at the top are, in order: the study of chemistry (practical and theoretical); spiking Feely’s makeup with non-lethal poisonous plants; “scissors” as an epithet, “suck on my galoshes” as a taunt; cyanide and a full hour, at LEAST.
As that final answer suggests, Flavia is the most productive citizen residing in the quaint English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey—unlike Inspector Hewitt, who is tasked by the Crown to officially solve the murder cases that land in Flavia’s back garden and who exists (in Flavia’s mindful-adult-starved imagination) as both ideal and nemesis. While he is a capable and kind law enforcement professional who treats Flavia with collegial respect, Flavia is not incorrect in demoting him in importance. In Bradley’s cozy mystery series that has been going strong since 2009, Detective Hewitt may officially “investigate” and “make arrests,” but it’s Flavia, heir apparent to an amateur chemist and possible spy-in-training, who does the most exhilarating legwork.
Flavia is prepared to surprise you—and every book-loving young person you know—with your new mutual obsession. Bradley has created a protagonist who is adored by readers of every age; Flavia proves weird and wild enough to remind adults of their childhoods while simultaneously delivering no-holds-barred reflections of her interior life to which children will relate.
Plus, while Flavia is a kid, and the murders are kept fairly PG in their depiction, the series is still shelved in the General Mystery section. So adults won’t have to “stoop” to picking up books from the Middle Grade shelf (although that shelf is the best), and kids will feel like they are getting away with something adults might not otherwise condone.
If you haven’t met Flavia, there’s no time like present; her ninth adventure, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, releases on January 30th. And even though she has finally aged just past 11, Flavia has only grown more curious, more spirted and more sure of herself since escaping her sisters’ kidnapping scheme in the opening pages of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. How has she managed that feat, and every feat that came thereafter?
That’s for you and the best 11-year-olds you know to discover…preferably while listening to Jayne Entwistle’s exuberantly devious narration together and exchanging scandalized glances from the first homicide to the final arrest.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibiliophile whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go 10 rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found tweeting from @AlexisKG.