A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Murder Is Bad Manners (or Murder Most Unladylike in its original U.K. edition), the first installment of a series by first-time author Robin Stevens, is an appealing whodunit set in a posh English boarding school in 1934, featuring 13-year-old detectives and BFFs Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. Teachers turn up murdered, and a not-so-secret string of affairs (both same- and opposite-sex) may have something to do with it. Narrator Hazel is sometimes worldly and sometimes naive, matter-of-factly noting that her dad has a concubine but not knowing exactly what goes on when characters are "canoodling" behind closed doors. Being a Chinese girl in 1930s England (a smart and rich one), Hazel deals with a lot of casual prejudice and snobbery, and she holds her own. This is a great choice for families who like books featuring diverse characters.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Hazel Wong's father, a banker in 1930s Hong Kong, reluctantly gives up his dream of sending his son to follow in his footsteps at an English boarding school after, as Hazel matter-of-factly describes it, his concubine gives birth to yet another girl. So he ships Hazel off to perennially cold, damp Deepdean School, where she finds that English misses aren't quite what she expected. For one thing, they're a lot meaner. But, luckily, the most popular girl in class, the aristocratic, glamorous Daisy Wells, likes Hazel's spirit. The two become BFFs and form a detective society with Daisy as Holmes and Hazel as Watson: "After all, I am much too short to be the heroine of this story, and who ever heard of a Chinese Sherlock Holmes?" They don't have much opportunity for sleuthing, though, until Hazel stumbles across the dead body of a teacher -- which disappears while she's summoning help.
Is it any good?
This great intro to whodunits for young girls also is a lot of fun for adult fans of the grandes dames of detective fiction (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and so on). Much about this mash-up of English-cosy mystery and boarding-school saga is straight from central casting, but a big plus in MURDER IS BAD MANNERS is the mini-novellas and character sketches author Robin Stevens tosses off in a few sentences, such as Hazel's description of how she came to be at Deepdean:
"My mother was furious. She hates my father's obsession with England. 'Western school never did any Chinese person good,' she said.
"'Oh come now, Lin darling,' said my father, laughing. 'What about me?'
"'Exactly,' snapped my mother, and for the next week she refused to speak anything but Cantonese in protest."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why stories set in boarding schools seem to have such enduring appeal. What others have you read orr seen in the movies? How do you like them? How does this one compare?
This story is set in 1934. How would it be different if it were set in the present day? How would the characters' lives be different? What about cultural attitudes?
How do the popular girls at your school treat the less glamorous ones? Which ones are mean, and which ones are kind to everybody? How do you feel about the way they act?
- Author: Robin Stevens
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication date: April 21, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love mysteries and strong girl characters
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.