ARC Review: Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl

Brooke Banks | 12:00 AM | | | | | | |


Format: ARC Paperback, 238 pages
Expected publication: April 16th 2013 by Chronicle Books 
Source: Won a free review copy from Goodreads First Reads giveaway
Categories: Young Adult, Mystery, Historical,
Rating: (5 Stars.)
Recommended for: fans of Emily Dickinson; historical, young adult and/or mystery fans; to get younger teens into reading;
One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. "Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond. She's stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he's condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson's intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike. 

As a fan of Emily Dickinson since I was young, when I first read the blurb it was an instant grab for me. I feel in love with her work when learning about it in school and used to daydream about Emily having a real Mr. Nobody, though it was told to us in no uncertain terms he didn’t really exist. Apparently, I’m not the only thing that had the same unrealistic hope. In those perilous tween years I even dreamed about meeting my own Mr. Nobody.

It’s no wonder why I was drawn into this book, Nobody’s Secret. The opening scene has me literally d’awwing and giggling. I was totally regressed to when I first felt that connection to Emily Dickinson so long ago. (Okay, not that long ago comparatively but half my 20 something life time  at any rate.) It is young adult, but the youngest part of the spectrum. I usually associate young adult with older teens, because those are the ones I usually read. On the back of the book it states from those 12 and up, but I could see myself reading it a tad younger. I think it would be perfect for those learning about Emily Dickinson, poetry and need a reason to be interested in reading for fun. Since teens usually like reading about teens older than them, I think this works in favor of those under 15. That doesn’t mean though that it doesn’t work for the older crowd as well, because it does. I’m proof positive of that and heartily recommend it for lovers of Emily Dickinson of all ages, for fans of the historical, mystery and/or young adult of any age really.

The Emily Dickinson portrayal- Ah, the big draw, the whole reason I picked up Nobody’s Secret in the first place, is achingly beautiful and poignant. Obviously, this is just MacColl’s version of Emily Dickinson but it’s well research, grounded sensical, and I’m particularly fond it myself.  Dickinson’s real voice and perspective that speaks to people across all boundaries is well represented here. It’s like you can hear the cogs in her head working not just on the mystery but crafting those well loved poems. I think this young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret sounds like a  natural beginning for the world renown poet.

The Romance and intrigue - The time and exchanges between Emily and Mr. Nobody are brief, of course otherwise how could they be kept as Mr. Nobody? Anonymity was impossible in such a small town. That’s the part of the Mr. Nobody poem - how hard it is to be weighed down having a name, a reputation. It’s not steamy - it’s dreamy. It’s the initial connection of two people who seem to get each other and then their time being cut short. It’s all very chaste and sweet. Yeah, it’s romantic but it’s not like Emily started in the “I love him so much” talk (God, I would’ve hated that). She was even shy and denied any feelings at first. But she did acknowledge the care, the duty she felt towards him and getting him justice. Their limited time together made sense and it was clearly shown through the dialogue and Emily’s thoughts why and how they were so drawn to each other. It was flirty attraction and hope based on the similarities they shared together with no one else. Really brought back that daydreaming innocence un-jaded tween I used to be. Part of me still wishes to re-write history for her to make it all work out differently.

The Mystery - Yes, the mystery, the dominating conflict of the book. It’s like those Nancy Drew’s I devoured growing up, but it’s not obvious or dumbed down.(I’m not saying Nancy Drew did, just saying for those assuming.) Not the convoluted, twisted mysteries I’m so used to now, but a common sense version of the small town mystery. For the more experienced reader might pick up and follow the trail of clues before our amateur sleuths; However, if you’re caught up in Emily’s narration, it’s quite easy to just go with the flow and not try to figure it out before her. That’s what happened to me and I was pleasantly surprised at the way it ended.

Historically - accurate and shown through actions and words; not rambling descriptive paragraphs that people tune out. From how they addressed each other, their clothes, the chores, the wagons, the blacksmith and the shops it’s painted wonderfully in a way that really captures you and puts you into that time. Not forced, but like you just stepped out of your house in the morning to find yourself in 1845.

I’ve mentioned how well researched this book is and I can’t stress that fact enough. That is SO important for historicals, especially those using a fictional version of real person. At the end of the book there is several pages from MacColl detailing the facts, how she grew the book from them and where she deviated for the purpose of the story. The deviations were just the fact Emily Dickinson never investigated a murder and the letter from Emily’s father that is based on the style of his real letters to home, but not a direct, real, quoted letter from him. There’s the history of Emily Dickinson laid out very well from where she lived (which is the setting for the story, obviously), her little sister’s devotion and love proven by her publishing Emily’s work after Emily’s death which inspired the pesky, perky, proper and loving Vinnie in the book; the fact their mother quoted The Frugal Housewife and followed its instructions is shown well with the giggling and frustration from her daughters felt; how the chores were done and the time it took;’s just everything. MacColl visited Emily’s hometown and it’s clear how passionate she is about Emily Dickinson. It’s not only finding another fan like me, but having it showcased in such a brilliant little story just gives me the warm and fuzzies.

Bottom Line: 

5 Stars = Amazing. I loved it, every bit of it, and actually can’t think of a single drawback for Nobody’s Secret.


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