Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Book Review: 51 Sycamore Lane by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (1971)

In this quirky middle grade novel by Nate the Great author Marjorie Sharmat, a group of boys become convinced that a woman in their suburban neighborhood is a spy. Once they come to believe this, they immediately begin looking for ways to prove her true identity, leading to a series of mishaps and misadventures.

Though the subject matter and intended audiences are different, I did see quite a few similarities between this book and Nate the Great. In both books, the narrator is a boy of above-average intelligence with an unusual vocabulary for a child. And in both books, the main characters are concerned with uncovering clues in their own backyards to help solve some mystery. I have to say, though, that of the two, Nate the Great is the more polished and more compelling book. 51 Sycamore Lane felt a bit disorganized, and it took me a while to figure out which direction it was going in, and what I was supposed to care about. (The subplot regarding a petition to remove a chicken from the neighborhood seemed like it was the main plot at first.) After a while, it started to feel like the characters (and author) found themselves more amusing than I did, and I had a hard time feeling immersed in the book.

The highlights of this book are the dialogue and the strong first-person narration. The plot is weak, and though there are some mildly entertaining comments about upper middle class life, most of them are either rooted in cliches or simply no longer relevant to a contemporary audience. I own this book and will keep it for now, but if my kids aren't interested in it in a few years, it won't be hard for me to slip it into a donation box and say goodbye!

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