Not for my heroes, not at the moment. We're getting there. Slowly. But surely. No, I am referring to my early birthday gift from my dear friends Jamie Orozco and her mom, Sharon Orozco. It's called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It's an adult book with a child narrator, eleven year old Flavia de Luce. Flavia is one of the most ferociously intelligent, shockingly complex, amazingly self-possessed and brilliantly awesome heroines I've ever met in recent literature. She's the youngest in a family of three girls, a father and a deceased mother, eleven years old and a exceptional chemist with a passion and specialty for poisons. Morbid? Perhaps. But it suits Flavia down to the ground.
Did I mention that the book takes place in 1950's England? Where girls weren't encourages to ride bikes, much less practice chemistry? But living alone with her tormenting older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (Flavia refers to them as Feely and Daffy) and her absent-minded, postal stamps-obsessed, British-to-the-backbone father and with her mother Harriet dead (died at Flavia's birth in a tragic mountaineering accident), Flavia finds ways to amuse and entertain herself. Mostly consisting of studying her mother's old chemistry book and using her skills to take revenge on her older sisters. Flavia is not a believer in turning the other cheek--she concocts cunning plans of vengeance against Ophelia or Daphne. And it's a treat to watch her go after them with a firm belief in tipping the scales of justice her way.
Tucked away in her private chemistry lab, Flavia waits for something interesting to happen in the sleepy rural English village of Bishop's Lacy. And something interesting does happen--a mysterious stranger turns up dead in the backyard of Flavia's estate Buckshaw...just after Flavia witnesses the said stranger arguing violently with her father. Flavia is privy to the stranger's last moments and words, a cryptic Latin utterance--"Vale." Flavia is far from frightened--she is fascinated and enthralled. Soon she's zooming around the countryside on her trusty bicycle Gladys, ferreting out long-past secrets from all the suspects and even her own family. She confounds and amazes the local police force by being able to comb through the red herrings and twists and turns of the plot. It's full of rare and priceless stamps, British boarding school politics, old-fashioned illusions and magic tricks and murder most foul.
Flavia is no saint. She reminds me of Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, only prior to discovering the garden itself. Only a brilliant chemist and maybe in need of some intense psychotherapy. But she's a treat to watch and her intelligence and adult shrewdness makes me want to hug her--if I didn't think she'd poison me with arsenic after I did it. Flavia is a genius at understanding how to distill poison ivy plants and inject it into her older sister's lipstick (one of her more wonderful revenges)--but she has no idea to bridge the gap between her and her withdrawn father, the only member of her family that Flavia is truly attached to. Her older sisters, in her own words, she can do without. Flavia is the kind of girl who could grow up to be a master spy, or a detective every bit as worthy as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. Either that or a criminal mastermind who would kill off her enemies with untraceable poisons. But it's one heck of a roller coaster ride keeping up with her.
Go meet Flavia de Luce. You won't regret it.
Over & Out,