|Ivy and Bean Take the Case|
by Annie Barrows.
2013. Chronicle Books.
This series hit a real high with its penultimate book, Ivy and Bean Make the Rules, whose praises I sang quite loudly during the 2012 CYBILS season. I also thought the eighth book, No News is Good News, represented quality, kid-friendly writing, great humor, and unique style. Because these two books were so exceptional, I expected nothing less from Ivy and Bean Take the Case. I was counting on Annie Barrows to end this beloved series with a strong, satisfying conclusion that would reward long-time fans and hook new ones. I am so disappointed to admit that this book just did not live up to my hopes.
From the very beginning, this book felt different. It didn’t feel like part of the same series as the nine books that came before it. Instead of focusing on the interplay between the two best friends, the story mainly focuses on Bean, who spearheads the detecting project and mostly just drags loyal Ivy along for the ride. Ivy participates marginally in most of the plot, but she is not the active player she has normally been in the girls’ other adventures. This lack of involvement from Ivy is compounded by the fact that pretty much every supporting character who has ever appeared in the series is somehow involved in Bean’s plan to solve a mystery. In each chapter, Ivy and Bean are nearly crowded out of their own book by the other kids who live in their neighborhood. Perhaps this was the author’s attempt to say goodbye to the characters in one fell swoop, and I can understand making that effort, but there were many moments where I felt like I was drowning in names and dialogue.
Another major flaw in this book is the handling of the mystery itself. Kids love mysteries, and I think they would have enjoyed seeing their favorite characters tracking down clues and drawing conclusions. I was looking forward to finding out the reason for that bizarre string that suddenly appears overnight. Unfortunately, Barrows opts not to solve the mystery. She spends the entire book setting us up to anticipate a solution and then simply does not deliver it. I trust the author enough to assume that she did this intentionally - maybe to provide the reader imaginative opportunities beyond the cover of the books, maybe as a commentary that the answer doesn’t matter - but there was a small part of me that also wondered if she left us hanging because she didn’t know the answer to the mystery herself. It’s hard to say whether kids will be disappointed - maybe they will react the same way as Ivy and Bean do, and just move on - but for me, this was not the way I wanted a favorite series to end, and I truly wish the author had made a different choice.
When the writing in this book is good, it’s really good, but once it derails, it never quite recovers. There are moments of great description, especially early on, but sadly, everything is overshadowed by the unresolved ending, and the strange departure in both style and substance from the qualities that have made this series so popular. I can only hope that kids won’t be as critical and that this final Ivy and Bean story will resonate more strongly with its target audience.
I borrowed Ivy and Bean Take the Case from my local public library.
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