This book sounded like it could be super cute and fun. A kid named John Watson moves into a new apartment building and becomes friends with the girl next door, Shelby Holmes. Shelby is incredibly observant and considers herself a detective. Together, they solve a mystery of a missing dog.
I liked the concept of a kiddie version of Sherlock Holmes, in this world where the original Sherlock obviously doesn’t exist. Young Watson was a pleasant narrator, settling into his new life (which of course involves a divorce, because we aren’t allowed to write about children with two parents any more, unless those parents are either incredibly weird or gay). He isn’t really sure that he wants to be friends with Shelby, who is kind of strange, but he doesn’t have a lot of other options, and soon finds himself pulled into her adventures.
So, like, I think what Eulberg was trying to do was portray a socially awkward kid (Shelby) and then have Watson kind of show her how to be a friend. But all that really happens is Shelby is so obnoxious and annoying that I couldn’t hardly stand to read about her. She is just flat rude, way beyond just being awkward. Is she supposed to be autistic and I’m supposed to have empathy for her or something? I have no idea. I just couldn’t believe what an obnoxious know-it-all jerk she was 100% of the time.
What really blew my mind was that she wasn’t just that way with other kids – she’s consistently rude and condescending to every adult she meets, too, including her own parents. And like – all the adults just go with it? They let her boss them around and ask rude questions and give in to all her demands. It was quite strange. If Shelby had showed up in my life, I would have told her where to get off. And if I had ever talked to my parents the way she talked to hers, I would have been grounded for weeks.
I realize that the original Sherlock isn’t completely likable. He is also rather condescending at times and not always polite. But he’s also an adult, not a nine-year-old. I basically got to the point where I realized that I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of the younger readers I know, because there is no way I would want them to look at Shelby as a role model. Even though by the end Shelby is doing slightly better at ‘being a friend,’ it’s not like she ever actually realizes what a boor she is, or apologizes for being obnoxious.
At one point, Watson and his mom go to Shelby’s house for dinner. Throughout, Shelby talks back to her parents, makes rude comments under her breath, and is incredibly sulky and annoying. When told to eat her green beans, she first off refuses, and then shoves them all in her mouth at once and chews with her mouth open. When she is given a piece of pie, she takes a bite and then spits it out because it’s sugar free. For some reason, her dad refers to her as ‘Shelly,’ to which Shelby responds, “It’s Shelby, Father. How many times must I remind you of that, especially since you have given me that designation?” …So apparently her dad forgets her name regularly…??? Or is Shelly a nickname that she doesn’t like??? Throughout the evening, her rude behavior is met with only mild remonstrance from her parents, who are of course portrayed as rather slow, dense, and ineffective. And afterwards, does Watson’s mom say, “Wow, there is no way I want this kid to be your primary influence in your new home!” ?? No, of course not. She’s just like, “Oh, wow, Shelby sure is interesting! ::nervous laughter:: ”
I also found it really hard to believe that Watson and Shelby were allowed to just meander all over New York City without telling anyone where they were going or when they would be back. Watson’s mother gives him strict rules about where he can go, but he doesn’t pay any attention to them since he’s just following Shelby around. On multiple occasions he finds himself places where he is uncomfortable or doesn’t know how to get home. None of these things seemed like actions I would want a younger reader finding acceptable. And even when Watson’s mom finds out that he went places he wasn’t supposed to, she just sort of shrugs it off because she’s glad he’s ‘making friends.’
I had trouble deciding whether a 10-year-old would have found the mystery of the book challenging. I found it almost embarrassingly obvious, to the point that I started to worry that maybe Watson needs some help if he can’t put together the clues that Shelby is handing him. Again, I know it’s traditional for the sidekick to be a little dense, but seriously. The culprit actually explains the motive behind the dognapping but Watson doesn’t notice…
As I was reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about the child-genius-detective that I grew up with, Encyclopedia Brown. I even pulled out a couple of my old EB books to see if he was more annoying than I remember. But no, Encyclopedia manages to be unfailingly polite and helpful, has normal friends, does chores without complaining, and is respectful to his parents and other adults. His dad is the chief of police, and often presents Encyclopedia with the facts of a case so EB can solve them, which he always does in a way that does not imply that his dad is stupid.
All in all, I was completely turned off by Shelby as a character, which meant I didn’t enjoy this book at all, and would never recommend it to any of the younger readers I know. I would never want them to think that Shelby’s condescending, rude, obnoxious behavior is in any way as acceptable as it was consistently presented. Shelby is a know-it-all jerk who spends all of her time rolling her eyes, pouting, and being dismissive of other people’s opinions and thoughts. There wasn’t a single moment of this book where I found her to be sympathetic or likable. 2/5 and not recommended.