I enjoyed this book a lot. It is funny, tightly-written, and feels very realistic in a surreal sort of way.
The full title of this book is Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery. The subtitle betrays the fun nature of this novel, as well as earning bonus points for even including the archaic term “cookery.” I think it is too bad that the cover of the paperback edition is a stereotypical YA cover featuring feet. The problem with the use of feet on the cover of YA books is that in of itself, the feet tell us nothing about the story. So many books use feet that they are meaningless. In fact, the feet turned me away from this book initially because I somehow associated them with either sex or a boring book. Do I have a suggestion for the cover of this book? Yes — how about a picture of a girl with a ‘D’, or a plate of pasta?
I think that having the protagonist be a teenage boy who likes cooking is an interesting twist. At my high school, boys who liked cooking and sewing were ridiculed. I remember one boy in grade eleven or twelve took sewing and explained that it would be a useful skill when he joined the military. (He did join the military, in point of fact.) Sherman Mack, the main character in this book, seems to be a similar guy in that he does things his own way and doesn’t care that he isn’t hypermasculine. He starts his adventure as a quest to keep his crush from being Defiled, but partway through the story, his focus shifts from this crush (Dini) to his female best friend, Anna. Overall, this is a mystery and is refreshing in that it features a male character who isn’t trying too hard to be a ‘teenage guy.’
Susan Juby portrays the concept of ‘Defiled’ in a way that is realistic to high school. Basically, girls photographs are pasted in the bathroom with a letter ‘D’ on it, and afterward, these girls are not to be interacted with. While this is caricaturish in of itself, it is a true fact of high school that girls use the power of social standing and inclusion to maintain a hierarchy. Some girls go to extremes lengths to hurt other girls who are seen as threats to their power, such that encouraging others to ignore them. Writing nasty lies or spreading rumours is a key way to get a girl out of one’s way. Often, boys are complicit in these schemes by encouraging rumours and by preying on girls who are seen to be outsiders. If girls ignore a girl, boys often do as well, leaving said girl well enough alone. Sherman is not one of those boys, however, leading him to start investigating the mystery of the ‘D’ posters.
This book is funny and is meant to be satirical. Unlike satire aimed at adults, this book is for teenagers who enjoy mysteries and who can laugh at themselves. As an adult reading this book, I did not feel smugly superior when I laughed. I also understand why I wasn’t attracted to this book when I had to shelve it numerous times at the public library: it isn’t meant for me. It’s meant for teenagers, especially younger teens who can identify with Sherman. I think this would be a great book for boys to read. I think a lot of boys could find Sherman to be a good role model.