Murder in the lab! The famous forensic scientist Dr. Ramachandran is stone-cold dead, and Ruby Rose’s father is the prime suspect. It’s one more reason for Ruby to hate the Gardens, the funky urban neighborhood to which she has been transplanted. Wise but shy, artistic but an outsider, Ruby must marshal everything and everyone she can to help solve the mystery and prove her father didn’t poison his boss. Everyone? The list isn’t too long: there’s T. Rex, Ruby’s big, goofy but goodhearted friend; maybe those other two weird kids from class; and that mysterious old lady in the apartment upstairs, who seems to know a lot about chemistry . . . which could come in very handy.
First of all, the page designs on this thing are beautiful. I stared at them for awhile every time I reached a new chapter. The summary is pretty self-explanatory. We follow Ruby Rose, the girl with two first names, as she tries to solve a murder that has been pinned on her janitor father. She and her friend, Rex, seek out of the help of an old recluse they call “the Window Lady.” There was something different about this book that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first, but I think it’s the lack of dialogue. That’s not a problem for me; it was just something I noticed when I compared it to other MG/YA novels in my mind. That’s not to say there’s no dialogue, but it is sparse in the very beginning. I liked it. It was almost lyrical sometimes. Another thing I liked about Ruby when I was first introduced to her is that she appears to have OCD. I can relate, Ruby, especially with the constant counting (hers are three and one, mine is six or eight). I did find myself wondering if this world is dystopian or not, but I was never quite sure.
I get a little bit of a Harriet the Spy feel from this one, and I like that! I loved Harriet when I was a kid, so it’s cool to watch a more modern version investigate. When we meet the Window Lady, or Mrs. Whitmore, properly, I decided I liked her. She wanted to help these two kids even though she’s a recluse who doesn’t leave her apartment. She wants to help Ruby clear her father’s name. I like that. She’s an unlikely hero, Mrs. Whitmore. You know what else I like? The racial implications in chapter eight. Before this, I wasn’t sure if this book was just a silly story about a girl detective, but the “Go take an English class, Raoul” (p. 68) line really got to me. In a good way. A way that makes you think. That’s around the time I got really interested, and this book became really fun to read. The only thing that continued to bug me a little was the dialogue! At first, it’s so sparse as to not exist, but in the middle of the book there’s so much slang I don’t understand that the dialogue becomes hard to read!
Eventually I figured it out and I enjoyed the book a lot, but there was so little backstory. You learn about Ruby in bits and pieces, and the rest in crumbs. You don’t learn Rex is Jamaican until almost the end of the book. We never learn anything more about the setting, other than Ruby and her dad live in a 1000+ apartment housing project. So this story isn’t really character-driven, and I could definitely tell the author is a science writer in real life. There’s some chemistry talk that went right over my head (I’m a psychology brain, not a chemistry brain) but it was still enjoyable. The science talk happens in maybe two chapters, so it’s nothing overwhelming. In all, I liked this one. It was cute, and the kids were resilient and bright. I thought it was a nice little read for middle-grade students and absolutely no romance! I think this one is worth a try.