Scarlett is a super-smart teen who graduated high school super early and spends her days trawling her city doing private detective work on her own terms. When a young kid comes to her asking for help regarding another young boy’s suicide, Scarlett agrees to investigate. But she’s in for much more than she bargained for, because the suicide is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger conspiracy that might or might not be supernatural. It may also lead Scarlett to the answers she’s been looking for regarding her own father’s murder years before.
Jennifer Latham’s debut novel is a refreshing take on the teen detective trope. Scarlett is already drawing comparisons to beloved teen-sleuth Veronica Mars, and while there are certain aspects of this novel that will work for a read-alike (Scarlett’s sarcasm and gritty determination come to mind), this book lacks much of the wit and humor that made Veronica so charismatic. Even so, teens looking for a heroine obsessed with uncovering the truth about mysteries should find this one to be a fast page-turner.
Latham has created an interesting protagonist in the character of Scarlett, a girl who is Muslim but conflicted about her religion, and whose personal tragedies help inform her view of the world. The diversity at play here is nice to see, but Latham occasionally veers into a clunky, didactic tone that distracts from the naturalness of the story and its characters.
This noir-lite novel should work for younger teens (as long as they don’t mind a bit of mild violence) as well as older ones. There’s a lot to like here, and Latham is a promising author to watch. There are hints that this might just be the beginning of Scarlett’s adventures (there’s certainly room for sequels here), and there’s every indication that Latham could grow stronger as a writer as the books progress. On the whole, this is a solid debut that should attract fans.
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: 2015. Library copy.