Friday Barnes, Girl Detective

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Friday Barnes, Girl Detective Book Poster Image
Smart girl solves boarding school mysteries in fun romp.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book's references (including literary allusions to Hercule Poirot, Tarzan, and even, very subtly, Jane Eyre), in-jokes, and vocabulary are likely to send many young readers to Google and the dictionary from time to time, but that's part of the charm of a geeky, self-taught protagonist who tends to know more about most subjects than the teachers do. "I've done a statistical analysis of the amount of time you make people wait before they come in to see you," 11-year-old Friday informs the Headmaster. "Parents are left to wait three minutes, teachers six minutes, and students seventeen. No doubt this is a Sun Tzu's Art of War-inspired intimidation tactic they teach you at headmaster training camp. So the question was, What would make you emerge from your office nine minutes before your self-imposed schedule?"

Positive Messages

Strong messages about being smart, using your brain, helping your friends, finding your place and your people, and righting wrongs for fun and profit. There's a strong message of not allowing innocents to suffer for the misdeeds of others and bringing the miscreants to justice -- but also the suggestion that there may be unintended consequences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Snarky, resourceful, and quite a bit smarter than just about anyone else, Friday is not your sweet, goody-two-shoes hero, but she's quite appealing as she cuts to the chase, solves problems, exposes evildoers, and leaves a posse of slightly dazed and sometimes busted adults in her wake. She's essentially raised herself, and her matter-of-fact taking charge of her own life will delight many kids, especially independent-minded ones. Socially clueless but quick to befriend her classmates, she's often driven by a hilarious mixture of kindness and self-interest, as rich kids with more money than sense are willing to pay practically anything for her to solve their problems -- and she has to pay her tuition.

Violence

Two kids are abducted and briefly held prisoner. A villain is involved in wildlife smuggling. Friday helps a friend use martial-arts moves on a bully but then agrees to solve a problem for the defeated bully: "There is more to this, and I promise to get to the bottom of it for you ... on the condition that you must never challenge Binky to a fight again, because he is a large simple boy who can, when given the proper instruction by me, hurt you seriously. Let's go." She's also knocked out when she accidentally hits her head on a statue. Potentially scary moments involve a yeti-like monster in the swamp next to the school, and the rich kids attract assorted trouble. For example: "I got expelled from my last school for hitchhiking into town to buy chocolate, I would have gotten away with it, too, if the driver who picked me up hadn't been a kidnapper who decided to hold me for ransom."

Sex

Friday and insanely good-looking classmate Ian can't stand each other and are constantly squabbling; Friday's roommate says this is a sure sign they're in love. A teacher flirts with an administrator, largely so he can make off with her snacks. In an early scene, Friday's mother goes into labor in the middle of her PowerPoint presentation, "and only the people in the front row noticed when her water broke."

Language

Numerous references to (mostly animal) poop, which is sometimes important to plot developments.

Consumerism

Occasional scene-setting mentions of real products, such as PowerPoint, Lexus, Xbox, PlayStation. Also there's a sample chapter from the next installment of the series at the end of the book.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Friday Barnes, Girl Detective is the first book of the U.S. version of a multivolume Australian boarding-school mystery series. Heroine Friday is a brilliant, geeky, take-charge 11-year-old heroine whose snarky remarks and off-the-wall detective work especially appeal to smart, independent-minded kids. The book's vocabulary is best for proficient readers, as its gleeful use of academic terms, literary references, and plain old big words are part of the fun. The cases Friday solves range from diamond heists and wildlife smuggling to disappearing homework; she threatens a bully with bodily harm if he messes with her friend, and the youthful crime-solvers are briefly kidnapped, but little real harm befalls anyone. Numerous references to animal poop, which figures in the solution to one of the crimes. Comic-book artist Phil Gosier's plentiful black-and-white illustrations bring the quirky cast of characters to life. Characters appear diverse, but there's no mention of ethnic differences.

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What's the story?

At 11, Friday Barnes, youngest child of a family of physics professors, has more or less raised herself and acquired quite an education by reading all the books in her parents' library. In the process, she's perfected the art of going unnoticed, which has quite a few upsides, including getting to consume a nearly unlimited amount of chocolate and detective stories, which she likes much better than physics. When she gets a $50,000 reward for recovering a stolen diamond, she decides to invest in her future by spending it on a year at the nation's best -- and priciest -- boarding school ("If they operate on a profit motive, the PE teachers will accept bribes, so that I am never forced to run cross-country again," she explains). She's scarcely arrived before her detective skills come in really handy, as her wealthy classmates are happily willing to part with almost any amount of cash if she can find a missing clock, retrieve a lost homework assignment, or otherwise avert disaster -- and hey, she likes it there and is already thinking about next year's tuition. Plus there's the insanely good-looking Ian, who was the smartest kid in school till she came along. Also, there are nighttime shenanigans in the swamp. Maybe even a yeti. All promising territory for FRIDAY BARNES, GIRL DETECTIVE.

Is it any good?

This fun romp from Down Under has boarding school shenanigans, sinister goings-on, a brilliant, socially clueless detective, and a posse of cartoonishly over-the-top rich kids. First published in Australia in 2014, Friday Barnes, Girl Detective has funny, cartoon-like illustrations by comic artist Phil Gosier. Between the academic references, pop-culture shout-outs, and fondness for big words, this probably isn't the book for reluctant readers, but it's a likely hit with kids who revel in clever language and ridiculous situations. Like this one, explaining Friday's early start in staying unnoticed:

"On the due date, [Mrs. Barnes] was committed to speak at a conference in Bern, Switzerland, about the possibility of the International Super Collider opening a black hole and destroying the planet. For the first time in her adult life, Mrs. Barnes saw her ironclad grasp on order and reason begin to slip.

"Mr. Barnes was, however, a man of action. That is, if the action did not require him to leave his office or get up from his desk. He Googled 'Bern' and 'maternity hospitals.' They discovered that there was one just two miles from the conference center. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes both breathed a sigh of relief. From that moment on, life proceeded exactly as if Friday did not exist."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about boarding-school stories. Why do you think they're so popular? Which others do you know? Are they always funny?

  • Some people like to call attention to themselves, while others try to stay unnoticed. What do you think? Can you think of situations where it might work better to do one or the other?

  • It sounds pretty cool to have your classmates give you hundreds of dollars to solve their problems -- but what could go wrong?

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