Google+ Reading Teen: Book Review: "When Did You See Her Last" by Lemony Snicket

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: "When Did You See Her Last" by Lemony Snicket

  • Age Range: 8 and up 
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Series: All the Wrong Questions
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316123056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316123051
  • Buy it: Amazon 
I should have asked the question "How could someone who was missing be in two places at once?" Instead, I asked the wrong question -- four wrong questions, more or less. This is the account of the second.

In the fading town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea, young apprentice Lemony Snicket has a new case to solve when he and his chaperone are hired to find a missing girl. Is the girl a runaway? Or was she kidnapped? Was she seen last at the grocery store? Or could she have stopped at the diner? Is it really any of your business? These are All The Wrong Questions

  • If you’ve ever felt like some adults could easily be like the ones you see in Charlie Brown, with the sound of a trombone replacing their speech then you might easily be able to relate to the 13 year old Lemony Snicket and the other kids in When Did You See Her Last? Because it’s clear from the beginning that the kids are the only competent ones, and that’s why young Snicket has to solve all the problems in the town of Stain’d by the Sea.

And it’s not even his first rodeo. You originally meet Snicket and some of the other cast with the first book in this series Who Could That Be at This Hour? that starts the Noir style detective work. But in this story we find Snicket searching for a kidnapped Scientist by the name of Cleo Knight, and as a bit of a side mystery we learn more about his sister, Kit Snicket.
This story starts with an introduction of Kit who provides them with their next case to solve the mystery of the vanishing scientist. They then set out to visit Cleo Knight’s home, and meet some of the family servants and a few others, but all they find is more mysteries there. And the mysteries only continue for a while with mysterious events and a few thoughts and ideas as to what is going on.
The story largely focuses on finding this scientist, rather than actually uncovering who had taken her, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does absorb a bit of the ‘who-dun-it’ kind of mystery from the story. But in trying to discover Cleo Knight, we are also led into a ton of action that wasn’t originally seen in the first book, and upped the pace to a level that became more intense.
Really if you haven’t read any of the Lemony Snicket books, you might not know exactly what you are getting into, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Most of these books, even the ones from his previous series (A Series of Unfortunate Events) could be said to be way smarter than their own good. You can read these books as a kid and then read them again as an adult and realize just how much you had missed before, especially around the literary power of them. A phrase meaning here: “how he teaches and sneaks in fun literary devices and designs that you may not always be aware of”.
There’s no doubt, like with many of Lemony Snicket’s books, he is a master with creating uniqueness while still larging drawing on things like basic Noir detective and children’s literature tropes. He has a femme fatale and the good, sweet girl, and yet still manages to twist them. And he doesn’t just leave the parents only slightly mentioned. He eliminates them completely, or makes them mostly inept and useless, which definitely brings some reminders to Charlie Brown, but with a darker feel.
As the tale goes on we are exposed to more and more action, rather than just research. And it’s clear the Snicket character is not perfect, with stealing and breaking and entering some of the crimes he commits here. It’s this action that really sets it apart from the first book in the series too. It makes it a bit darker for a young adult book, and also keeps the flow and pace of the plot a lot stronger. There are still some moments where it slows down, but it’s a much easier read than the previous book of the series.
Unfortunately it still doesn’t quite live up to the Series of Unfortunate Events but that might just be because those came first. You still see a lot of Snicket’s unique and literary writing style that you might have fallen in love with from his previous series. Although occasionally it gets bogged down with a very film-noir focus, you can still see it shine through and there are definitely moments that will just make you smile despite the usually depressing subject matter. If anything Snicket certainly knows how to great some form of optimism out of otherwise grim content.
Hopefully we’ll get to see even more of his writing style shine with the remaining other books for this series.

Follow Maria on Twitter @WritingMaria
+Maria L Hughes is a children’s book enthusiast and online publisher for She frequently writes about and reviews children's and young adult books to spread the word about great books.


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