Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on April 30, 2013
Published by Chronicle Books
Read From: 5.26.13 - 5.30.13
It's 1846, and for fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson, every day follows the same pattern: chores, chores, and more chores. So when she meets a mysterious, handsome young man, she's intrigued. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with "Mr. Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I really am not a huge fan of the cover art, and I am not entirely certain why. True, there are two character impersonators, and one of them is staring most disconcertingly at me, but "Emily" is turned around, and "Mr. Nobody" doesn't bother me a great deal, surprisingly. So what is it that I don't like? Sadly, I cannot put my finger on it; I just know that it is not entirely to my liking.
Characters: Young Emily Dickinson makes for a spunky, intelligent, and quick-witted protagonist. She doesn't always think things through before acting, but her heart is in the right place, and she has the drive to discover the truth. Her sister, Vinnie, behaved like the older sister, even though she wasn't. I actually liked Vinnie a lot; she covered for Emily when needed, and once Emily involves her in her investigations, Vinnie expresses her own surprising amount of intelligence and spunk. The two sisters make a great detecting team. As little as "Mr. Nobody" is in the book, he made quite an impression on me, which made his impending doom that much more sad. He seemed kind, funny, and friendly without being presumptuous. I was sorry to see him meet such a quick demise.
The Romance: There really isn't any. Emily has something of a crush on "Mr. Nobody," but "Mr. Nobody" exits the tale so swiftly that the romance has positively no time to become aggravating.
Plot: At fifteen, Emily Dickinson is a young woman who ought to be preparing for future life as someone's wife and homemaker. But Emily is too "studentish" for that; she wants to learn, experience new things, and write poetry. She detests household chores with a passion; she would do anything to get out of them. No one in her family understands her, though, so it is a great relief - and a surprise - when she meets a handsome young gentleman who seems to understand her perfectly. But Emily's friendship with him is cut very short when he turns up in her family's pond, quite dead. No one knows who he is, and Emily can't help much, for the gentleman never told her his name - she always fondly called him "Mr. Nobody." While the constable is swift to dismiss Mr. Nobody's death as drowning, Emily cannot help but notice clues that don't quite add up. Why is Mr. Nobody dressed as a common laborer when he's a gentleman? What about the peculiar carriage wheel ruts along the bank? And what of the strange blue tinge to Mr. Nobody's fingers? Feeling a sense of obligation, Emily sets out to solve the mystery of his death, and as she investigates further, Emily becomes convinced that he was murdered. But by whom? And to what purpose? When picking up a novel that stars Emily Dickinson as the heroine, one doesn't expect to read a murder mystery, but that is exactly what Nobody's Secret is. And an intriguing one at that! Emily is very quick to pick up on "what's wrong with the picture," and she acts on her instincts and discoveries immediately. This makes for a very swift-moving plot, which in turn equals a very engaging one. I was eager to see what Emily would discover next, and how it would connect to Mr. Nobody's mysterious demise. At the same time, the Reader gets a glimpse into the life of one of America's most famous female poets.
Believability: I don't know a whole lot about Emily Dickinson or her life - she never fascinated me. But from what I know of the era, the Author portrayed it very well. The events in Nobody's Secret are, of course, entirely fictional; Emily Dickinson never investigated a murder. But the Author notes all of this in her Historical Note.
Writing Style: Third person, past tense. In some ways, I would have liked this novel to be in first person, so that I could have been inside Emily's head more thoroughly. Even so, we Readers still grow to understand young Emily Dickinson's thoughts pretty well. The writing style is simple, but surprisingly detailed and quaint. While the Author does use Emily's dialogue to thoroughly outline to the Reader how all of the threads connect, it actually worked fairly well, and didn't feel clumsy.
Conclusion: As one clue leads to another, Emily knows she's getting closer and closer to discovering not only Mr. Nobody's name, but how he died - and why. It's not a heart-pounding climax, but a story like this isn't meant to have one. Extensive monologing, one-on-one stand-offs, and dragged-out chases would have been completely out of place and absurd. However, to say that Emily doesn't have a satisfying meeting with the villain would be untrue. Emily does get a chance to come face-to-face with the guilty parties, and there is an unexpected twist. Nobody's Secret is a great quick read; good characters, pleasant writing style, and an engaging mystery. At not even 300 pages, I found it to be a relaxing book with which to spend the afternoon.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and up, great for Emily Dickinson and historical mystery fans!