Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Book Report: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

I enjoy a well-written mystery book and prefer those that limit the gore.  I can’t recall how I first found the Flavia de Luce mystery series but these books, by Alan Bradley, are keepers.  Most of them take place in England, in the imaginary village of Bishop’s Lacey, circa the 1950s.  The “detective” is 12 year old Flavia, the third daughter in a gentry family.   She lives in her ancestral home, the crumbling Buckshaw.  The de Luce’s are titled but strapped for cash thanks to the disappearance of mom Harriet, who carried title to the family estate but was lost climbing the Himalayans.

Flavia’s family story is bittersweet but not lost in sentimentality, as our nosy 12 year old heroine has a wry sense of humor, an eye for the truth, and a boundless interest in the field of chemistry.  I began reading the series the first year I taught 6th grade and had developed a keen appreciation of the 12-year-old mind.  I eagerly await every book in the series and the latest, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, finds Flavia starting classes at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, a boarding school in Canada.

In previous stories, Flavia has spent hours alone biking the village streets, shopping about, and performing experiments in her Chemistry lab.  She was a happy loner.  Now in a school teaming with girls, Flavia is a bit homesick as she sorts out a new place.  Happily, she’s still a snide observant of the world.  

She describes the head of her new school this way: “Her hawk nose and dark complexion gave her the look of pirate who had given up the sea for a career in education.”

Explaining how she can sleep through class by cupping her chin and tipping her head so that she appears thoughtful, Flavia assures us, “In all of recorded history, a teacher has never been known to question a thoughtful pupil.”

Unhappily silenced at a time when she has something to share, she notes, “…as with so many of my best ideas, I kept it to myself and moved on.”

Alan Bradley’s ability to see the world through the eyes of a 12 year old while writing a story that appeals to adults is clever.  Flavia is just the sort of kid we all would have liked to know and her rich eye for detail makes every book in this series a treat.

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