Not Exactly “The Mutual Admiration Society”

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I wanted to like it a lot. Memories of those glorious hours I spent in childhood reading “Nancy Drew,” and most especially “Trixie Belden” came to mind from some description of TMAS on the product page. This tale is not like any of those books. Nor should it be– I get it. Much time has gone by since then, and they seem a bit dated. They were pretty idealized, innocent stories. If I reread them now, I would read them differently than my younger self. I might have to (reluctantly) agree with detractors about being “saccharine” and such.

Though I am willing to concede the series’ I used to get lost in were possibly too straight-laced, this book went too far off the rails for me. The writing is good. This volume is not the first story written about these characters, and this is not the first book in the series, either. Written from the perspective of a jaded 11-year-old girl named Tessie Finley, it follows her and “Birdie,” her 10-year-old sister. A well-intentioned librarian tells Tess she might aspire to become “a real-life Nancy Drew.” Instead, she reads mysteries for the opposite reason. She has dreams of “doing crimes, not solving them.” After all, she would be what she “already was– an eavesdropper, liar, shoplifter, cat burglar, poison-pen writer extraordinaire, and top-notch blackmailer….”

Of course, a lot of this seems wishful thinking. She is not bad. I just cannot relate to those sorts of goals. At all. I understand there has been a tragedy in her life, as she watched her beloved father die in a horrible accident. The title “The Mutual Admiration Society” comes from one of the few flashbacks we get of them with their father. Unfortunately, they are quite brief, as they are the best part of the book. That highlight is never matched for me. That is disappointing, as it happens fairly early.

On the other hand, their mother is barely seen or heard from in the course of the book at all. Her absence and things the narrator/ title character says leads the reader to know that she is not a fixture in her daughters’ lives– even though she lives in the same house. She does not even allow them to call her mom or a similar title, as doing so may detract from her finding a new husband and the girls a substitute dad. We readers are privy to no scenes of closeness with their mother– no breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Nothing. The lead does think about how her mother is a lousy cook, so these meals do happen. It feels contrived. I feel as annoyed at this as I do when watching a movie in which a couple has a child or children, but they hardly appear on camera at all. It is like having children is the easiest thing ever. They never need or want anything. The parents’ lives just progress like when they were pre-child. Anyone? LOL

Much to Tess Finley’s credit, her top goal on her “to-do” list is to take care of her sister. Although just a year separates the girls, Birdie is working with some significant issues of unknown origin. Tess’ treatment of her sister is kind for the most part, allowing for some momentary lapses. She is eleven, after all. However, even being so young, she has compiled what amounts to an enemies list with an expletive title. Really? She often uses her favorite cuss, da*n, and sometimes she uses the blasphemous version. Other than that, there is not too much by way of swearing. There is no sexual content of any sort.

The characters are stilted and not fully fleshed out. Tess’ way of thinking and talking seem a parody of some ne’er do well gangster. It does not ring true but feels quite forced. Add to this that nothing much truly happens, and it was a disappointing read for me. It seems at times like the author was taking a crack at duplicating the charming “Scout” character from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but it comes up short. The book just does not jive with my sensibilities.

The Mutual Admiration Society by Lesley Kagen was my January selection from the Kindle First Program. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can choose one of these special titles every month for free. See the choices here.

Here is my original review on Amazon. Please feel free to comment, share or vote as helpful. Thank you! 🙂

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