Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
This post heavily edited after thoughts.
Scarlett graduated from high school early and opened a detective agency – both for something to do and to investigate her own family’s tragedy. When her newest case gets rolling, she realizes there may be more to it than she first thought. Soon, she finds herself deep into a millennia-old battle involving djinn and curses – and her own family history.
I appreciated that Scarlett’s policeman/mentor has a thing for Reem, Scarlett’s sister, but has enough respect for her choices to not push. Scarlett has her own long-time friend turned possibly-something-more that gives her the best kind of confusion and excitement. The two don’t do too much physically, but I still felt the tingles and thought it was super cute and a happy start for something that could be awesome. Even so, the romance is more warm than hot and not the focus of the story.
Feminist Score: You’re Trying and Good Effort
Scarlett and her sister are making it on their own after family tragedy. Reem is on her way to being a successful doctor and Scarlett is still a teenager but has her own business. She’s an entrepreneur with great marketing ideas. In addition, there’s a diner owning, straight-talking mama bear who gives the sisters advice and watches out for them.
But. But…Reem wears a headscarf and in the story, she becomes serious and unfun and unsocial when she starts wearing it – all things opposite from the hijabis I know. Also, the thing that happens to their mom is embedded in a stereotype that Muslim women and is an unfortunate perpetuation of something that, while a problem in the community, is not really necessary or good to have in a book. Having her fight the stereotype would have been nicer.
Scarlett is a brown-skinned, Muslim girl that left high school early because it was too easy. Her character is spunky and smart and is determined to figure out the answers to what happened to her family. I appreciate so, so much that this character is here and available. I also like that we get to see several ways of being Muslim (though see note about regarding Reem). Scarlett makes some decisions that are less traditional (not praying all 5 prayers, getting a tattoo, not wearing a headscarf) but she is no less Muslim than her sister who does do those things.
One thing that struck me as odd – Scarlett and Reem have very different names. I know it’s not impossible, but I thought it a little weird that Reem had a fairly traditional name and Scarlett’s was fairly…not. Other things that made me reduce the score: the religion as written is a mess of randomness. I don’t think anyone (Muslim) would recognize this as Islam as they know it, but maybe as a book with pieces of Islam thrown in with a bunch of other stuff to make it work for the story. There are also a few things that are pretty anti-tradition, for example, one of the characters gives the peace greeting to Scarlett and then ends up attacking her. That’s a pretty big no-no. And, like, obviously not all Muslims follow everything, but when you’re writing a religion with such bad press, you should try to adhere to most things, you know?
Awesome Factor: Good Effort
The mystery in this book isn’t super hard to figure out, but it brought in a lot of interesting possibilities and the characters were fun. The book is written at a quick pace and Latham has a very specific way of writing. It sets the tone really well and calls back to old detective stories. In some ways, it feels like a brilliant bit of building Scarlett’s character – she wants to be a detective, so she “puts on” the things she thinks they do. I liked Scarlett’s personal story and the larger mystery, and the value of family – chosen and born. But, I would have liked representation that was a little more recognizable as and positive about Muslims and Islam.
Gemma – she’s a smart kid and has a full grasp of the real world and who she should really ask for help. I appreciate her bravery in reaching out for help and her love for her brother that keeps her going.
But Deck’s words still chafed like burlap pants.
The similes in this book are HILARIOUS! I picked this one because it made me laugh out loud, but there were tons of others. The writing sets the tone and expertly captures Scarlett’s voice.
Is this book worth a hangover?
Scarlett Undercover is fun and fast. It’s a light mystery and the story is quick. I liked the book and I was initially excited about more representation, but I’m afraid that this doesn’t really hit the mark fully. This isn’t quite as deep as I expected it to be, but I’m still glad I read it and would easily recommend it to others.
Fun Author Fact
Latham used to help with autopsies. That’s both fun and creepy.
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