This book was an immensely enjoyable read. It's well written, witty, and overall well researched and put together. The characters are believable and fleshed out. Believable? With an 11-year-old chemist for a protagonist? Yes. Yes, indeed. I was surprised, because I when I read the premise I thought it would be a rare writer that could pull it off. Bradley manages it. Here's why.
As someone who was - not meaning to toot my own horn here - a very precocious child myself, with interests far outside of most of my peers, and very, very lonely until I gave up on the idea of having real friends and devoted myself to books until people grew up enough (yes, I distinctly remember having thoughts, at about Flavia's age, that no one except a rare adult or two understood me at all but maybe when my "friends" grew up they might) - I found her to be not only believable but immensely charming. There, was that sentence long enough? I wish
I had known someone like Flavia as a child. I'm sure my parents are grateful I didn't. I didn't ever have the brazenness she exhibits, probably because my parents were not eccentric explorers or gentry like hers. Also she was growing up in the 50s, when it was generally much safer than the 90s to allow your children to run all over town and not worry about them until dinner. I would also have been much better off if I had been able to come to her conclusion about the rest of the world at an earlier age, but, c'est la vie.
I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.
Flavia is an astute observer and is without many of the filters that an adult narrator would have. While the mystery itself is nothing very deep, it's the setting and the characters that populate the story that made me love it so much (and immediately set about procuring the next one!). Flavia's inner commentary is by turns shrewd and naive - something else Bradley managed to strike just the right balance on to maintain the believability of her 11 years.
It's a fact of life that a girl can tell in a flash if another girl likes her...With a boy you can never know whether he's smitten or gagging, but with a girl you can tell in the first three seconds.
Then there are all the delightful references to literature and culture thrown in, which just added to the charm. I love meeting people who've read the same books I have!
"I was hardly surprised to read that he (Flavia's father) had named his first two offspring after a Shakespearean hysteric and a Greek pincushion."
In short, I just want to go visit and meet all these people, because I feel like despite their eccentricities I would like them very much. I really hope that Bradley lets us get to know them and their histories better. Especially Dogger. Dogger is just so sweet and yet so broken...I want to know more about what made him that way. Also I definitely want to see Flavia grow up! She reminds me, slightly, of Anne of Green Gables, only with a scientific bent instead of literary.
5/5 stars. It maybe should have been 4/5, due to what was, in hindsight, a rather shallow mystery aspect...but I enjoyed the reading of it so much I can't help myself. 5 stars it is!