Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book Reivew - Muder Most Unladylike

Murder Most Unladylike: A Wells & Wong Mystery (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery) by Robin Stevens
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Corgi (July 22, 2014)

Also known by its US title Murder Is Bad Manners (A Wells & Wong Mystery). The US edition also has a different cover design.

A murder-mystery story set in 1934 in England. At first I was excited to read this to my daughter, since one of the main
characters is Asian, but that did not last long. While Hazel Wong may be Chinese she is reduced to her "other" appearance and racism. She could be interchangeable with any other white girl in the story, as Hazel's only personality is self-deprecation.

The story will not let you forget that Hazel and her family are not a typical British family as exampled on page 62, "I would have too, if two things had not happened: first, my father's concubine had another daughter." "Father's concubine," a clear sign of othering. While yes concubines did exist in Hong Kong at the time it wasn't necessary to the story, she isn't a proper character and isn't even given a name or description, the concubine is never mentioned again in the story. The line could have easily changed to Hazel's mother having another daughter instead of twisting a Chinese family. What does it show beyond Hazel's family being different from a typical white British family?

Just when you might forget that Hazel isn't the typical white British girl going to Deepdean School for Girls Part Four Chapter Nine happens. It is full of hazing and racism from Daisy, Hazel's supposed best friend. Now, this probably really did happen to foreign students in the 1930s, but was in necessary to include it in this book meant for preteens? I definitely wouldn't want to encourage my daughter to hero worship anyone who bullies her, and I don't think anyone else would want that for their child. It seems to give a bad impression, endure the person who torments you enough and they will become your BFF.

I think one of the bad things about the story is that Hazel knows she is surrounded by racism and has to let it flow over her. From page 42:
Usually, once they know me, English people simply pretend that I am not Oriental, and I simply do not remind them about it. But sometimes they slip, and little buts if nastiness that are usually hidden come sliding out of their mouths, which can be quite difficult to politely ignore.

I will say that the use of "oriental" here is from the British sense of the word, as the author is British, and not the American sense where oriental is seen more as a slur.

Hazel's father is a complete Anglophile, and it has perhaps led to Hazel's own self-hate. Hazel describes herself as "lumpy legs," "I, on the other hand bulge all over like Bibendum the Michelin Man; my cheeks are moony-round and my hair and eyes are stubbornly dark brown." Even on the first page of the story is, "After all, I am much too short to be the heroine of this story, and who ever heard of a Chinese Sherlock Holmes?"

In contrast Daisy is described as "... one of those dainty, absolutely English girls with blue eyes and golden hair;..."

Least you think I am being too harsh of the character of Daisy Wells, on page 170:
'But - someone else might have put on her shoes?' I suggested. I had felt so sure it must have been The One.

'Oh, don't be an ass, Hazel. That sort of thing is too silly to happen in real life. Unless you think they crept into her boarding house and stole her shoes just to wear them in a passageway that no one ever uses?'

I blushed. I felt like an idiot, and I was glad it was so dark.

This is just one of many times that Daisy puts Hazel down, hardly what I would call best friend material.

I think I might read Arsenic for Tea on my own and review it here, but I doubt I will be reading it to Jasmine.

I would give this book:
2 Stars
Why would I give it so many stars when the characters personalities are so horrible? Well, the book is set in a 1930s all-girls school in England. I think the time period and location allows you to learn things that are not often in a children's book (i.e. I can't think of another book set in a 1930s all-girls school.) So you do learn how things work at the school, and some terminology of the time.

If for some reason you are intrigued enough to read other books from the series here are links to them, and they are in order (since there is no where on the cover, or inside of the books, at least not the two that I had, that show which book is first, second, etc., and I really hate that publishers are doing that.)

Murder Most Unladylike
Arsenic for Tea
First Class Murder
Jolly Foul Play

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