Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Review of Look into My Eyes (Ruby Redfort) by Lauren Child

I'll warn you that Ruby Redfort might get on your last nerve. I wasn't sure I liked her at first, but I kind of got over it. Put it this way: the kind of stylized characters and dialogue you've seen in Child's Clarice Bean picture books is a little harder to swallow in a full-length MG novel.

Ruby Redfort actually started out as Clarice Bean's favorite schoolgirl detective, a modern Nancy Drew. Ruby is a cross between Harriet the Spy and maybe Artemis Fowl. Without the evil, though Ruby is a little ruthless and doesn't seem particularly fond of her parents. (No fairies, either. Sorry.) Throw in some Alex Rider and a bit of Sherlock Holmes and you're there. Ruby was born to be a spy, or a P.I at the very least. She would have solved her first case as a two-year-old if she could have talked a bit better. Here young Ruby has just watched what appears to be a dognapping take place out the front window.
The little girl attempted to grab her parents' attention, but since her use of language was still limited she could not get them to understand. She watched as the woman pushed her feet back into her black shoes, walked to the rear of the truck, and disappeared out of view.... The girl jumped up and down, pointing at the window. Her parents, sensing she might be eager for a walk, went to put on their coats.

The child drew a truck on her chalkboard.

Her father smiled and patted her on the head.

Meanwhile, the driver folded his map, thanked Mr. Pinkerton, and returned to his vehicle, waving to him as he drove off.... The woman, now minus the picnic basket, walked on by. She had a fresh scarlet scratch on her left cheek.

The child spelled out the truck's license plate with her alphabet blocks.

Her mother put them away and dressed her in a red woolen pom-pom hat and matching mittens.

When Ruby is a little older, she keeps her findings in a series of notebooks hidden in her room. She also becomes a talented code breaker. This attracts the attention of a CIA-like group that recruits her—which sounds like a lot more fun than it is. Oh, and her house is robbed. Everything disappears except Ruby's stash of notebooks. Even the housekeeper is missing. Then a new butler shows up a little too quickly and takes things in hand.

A shipment of gold is coming to the city bank, and a legendary Buddha statue is coming to the city museum. Ruby's parents are on the board of directors. The secret association, Spectrum, is sure the gold is going to be stolen. They want Ruby to decipher the notes of the agent who last worked on the case, a woman who died in an avalanche while mountain climbing in Europe. Ruby meets a bevy of other agents—the helpful Hitch, the sourpuss she nicknames Frogface, donut-supplying Blacker, and boss woman LB. None of them seem very respectful or appreciative of Ruby, who just happens to swipe a few gadgets from the agency's hidden lair. Oh, and they swear her to secrecy, which puts her friendship with best buddy Clancy on the rocks.

I wish Ruby's t-shirt sayings were more off the wall, but her adventures really grew on me. The spy action has a solid Saturday-morning cartoon vibe. The moments of humor are especially nice—like the way Mrs. Digby handles being kidnapped or the various villains' monikers and looks. Not sure how I feel about Ruby's overly vacuous, inept parents, though. Still, there's an energy to Child's storytelling that I like very much, and Hitch and Clancy make good secondary characters. I think I'll stick around to see what happens in Book 2.

Note: If you like Ruby Redfort, try Harriet the Spy, the Artemis Fowl series, and Georgia Byng's Molly Moon books.


bookkm said...

I read the ARC. The beginning is so intriguing that I persevered through writing that I thought was sometimes a bit "twee" as the British might, but probably don't, say. Still, Ruby is a smart alecky detective and a strong girl character for tweens.

I am going to read Book Two, too.

KateCoombs said...

I think maybe I would call the writing a bit self-conscious, like a little kid who puts on a particular smile-like grimace every time you point a camera at him/her. It will be interesting to see what the next book is like.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. I am not a big fan of spy books but this was absolutely would change - keep writing Lauren!