Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham


Author:
 Jennifer Latham
Series: Standalone
Read: July 25th-28th, 2015
Publisher: Little Brown
Release Date: May 19th, 2015
Genre: urban fantasy, YA, mystery
Rating: ★

In short: the characters were intriguing, the setting was interesting, but the plot was far too messy for me to enjoy.

Goodreads: A voice-driven mystery perfect for fans of Veronica Mars.

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

Like I said, the main characters of this story are extremely fun to read about. But the plot was a little too all over the place and inconclusive for me, and the romance fell completely flat. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the depiction of Islam in the novel, so I won’t go to that at all.

≫ THE PLOT:

I knew better than to be smug or lazy. In my business, smug and lazy got you in trouble.
And sometimes they even got you dead.

Scarlett is a young Muslim American girl, and when she’s not snooping around for clues about her father’s murder, she’s solving your average suburban mystery. When a high school boy throws himself off a bridge in their little city, his best friend’s little sister comes to see Scarlett. She’s worried that the two boys were involved in something dangerous—and that Quinn, the boy who killed himself, was forced to do it. What starts out as an investigation into a snazzy construction company turns into a tussle with an ominous cult—one that Scarlett finds out may have its ties to her own family.

The plot was a bit hazy and disconnected, but more importantly it tried to flirt with both contemporary mystery and urban fantasy. That didn’t work for me, at all. I get where it was trying to go, but it fell flat because of how inconclusive it was—and it wasn’t thought-provoking either. The novel tries to question faith and belief systems, but Scarlett’s entire attitude is so ambivalent that it left me feeling rather confused. It’s true that faith is rather like that in real life, but I wish that theme had been expanded on a bit more.

≫ THE PROTAGONIST:

No problem. I had it covered.

Aside from the awesome diversity she brings, Scarlett really was a fun protagonist. She gets stuff done, she doesn’t get on your nerves. She’s pretty much made from the spunky Veronica Mars mould. Now, she was entertaining, but at the same time, not very original. Obviously certain tropes become tropes because of their universal appeal, but I wish Scarlett hadn’t stuck to the mould quite so well.

Even though we’re in Scarlett’s head, we get far too little real introspection of the freaking-outwhy-is-there-a-cult-what-is-happening kind. It’s a part of her personality to take things in stride, clearly, but after a point it started to get frustrating. I’m sitting here asking all these questions and wondering about everything, and Scarlett’s just going with it!

≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
The novel is driven more by Scarlett’s voice than anyone else’s, but one of the other characters really stood out. Her sister Reem was so easy to love—the weary one used to Scarlett’s trouble-making. I love that she struggles to keep the family anchored to their culture as well as to each other. Aside from Reem, most of the other characters didn’t get enough screen time for me to really form opinions about them. Overall, they were definitely a quirky cast, though.

≫ OF VILLAINS:
The entire cult idea, I’ll admit, was interesting, but like I said, it felt a bit inconclusive and rushed. We see more of Scarlett than anyone else, so when the villain’s big reveal comes around, it isn’t as impactful as it should’ve been.

≫ THE ROMANCE:

For just that one, brief glimpse of forever, I gave myself to someone else.

This was the one aspect of Scarlett Undercover that I didn’t just feel lukewarm about – the romance didn’t work at all. Scarlett has known her love interest Decker for years, and they already have feelings for each other, which could have been really interesting to read about. But! The fact that they already have feelings for each other is used as a free pass for no development between them whatsoever, which really got on my nerves. They have barely any scenes together. There’s no progression for them from the beginning to the book to the end, so when they start confessing undying love I can’t help but be a bit disbelieving.

≫ THE ENDING:
Again, far too inconclusive to me. Something as earth-shaking as questioning faith should’ve felt a little more concrete in both the book and in Scarlett’s mind. But it doesn’t seem to change her at all, and that struck me as a tad pointless. If I can’t see a change in the character from beginning to end, that means they haven’t undergone any development, which is the most basic idea of a novel.

≫ TO SUMMARISE:
Unfortunately, this was lukewarm. I enjoyed Scarlett’s voice, but everything else fell flat.

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