by Peter Abrahams
young adult mystery, 2005
48. Behind the Curtain - second in the Echo Falls series
by Peter Abrahams
young adult mystery, 2006
50. Into the Dark - third in the Echo Falls series
by Peter Abrahams
young adult mystery, 2008
Throughout these first three (and only, so far) books in Peter Abrahams' Echo Falls series, I thought to myself, 'He's got it. He gets how a thirteen year-old thinks.' As an adult reading along I noticed clues but often Ingrid Levin-Hill misses them, as any kid might. I liked it so much that she wasn't a genius child-detective or even that good in school. Yes, she adores the Arthur Conan Doyle books, but most of the time she can't grasp what Sherlock Holmes is telling her that may connect to the cases she herself is involved in. Ingrid is believable because she doesn't always figure things out. Sometimes I have had an inkling of something that doesn't occur to Ingrid, and this feels right because I am an adult and she isn't.
Anyhow, I realized that I had a way of getting into the mind of a real thirteen year-old girl. I could look in my diary from that year in my own life. Granted I was a girl of the early 1960s, and times have certainly changed, but I thought there might still be some similarities. I opened to a random page, August 12, and found a probably typical day in my thirteen year old life. I began each entry 'Dear Diary' and ended the day with 'Nite Joan' - the name I had given my little book.
At about 2 I went over to Anne's and played canasta. At 3 I went to the laundermat [sic] with Mom. This morning at 11 I went to the library & got Twixt 12 & 20 & Mindy.Then speaking of Anne I wrote, 'I hope we always stay "best friends." Tom reminded me that the junior high girls still write BFF, best friends forever. Oh, and Anne and I are still friends, though we live on other sides of the country.
We learn the details of Ingrid's daily life in much the same way; her brother drinking orange juice directly from the carton, the foods she eats. But a big difference between my life and Ingrid's is that my mother was always home. I couldn't have done (gotten away with) most of the things Ingrid does just for that reason. Part way through the first book it struck me that a number of the situations Ingrid becomes involved in happen because her parents are late or cannot pick her up. This is the first book I've read that very subtly shows what can happen in good families, intact families, just because both parents are involved in their work. And there's something in the way Ingrid notices they haven't arrived that made me feel this is a not-so-uncommon occurrence. Ingrid gets into some iffy situations for no other reason than her parents don't pick her up on time, or at all. And the father, who at first seemed kind of low-key and warm, shows himself to be an exceedingly pushy parent. He is constantly on his freshman son to build himself up physically to be a better football player. And he wants Ingrid to be on the fast track of math so she can get into Princeton, or at least one of the other prestigious schools. These facets of the Levin-Hill household are not preached at the reader. There is nothing obviously stated, but an acute reader (maybe just an adult, a parent?) sees these things all too well. I have great praise for this author who can convey both a young girl, her brother, and her parents in such a realistic way. They weren't stereotypes. They were all people with strengths and weaknesses.
This continues into the second book, Behind the Curtain when Ingrid accepts a ride home from a new man in town, again because her parents couldn't bring her home. Granted he was in a community play with her, but honestly what was the play director thinking? Whenever Tom has supervised an event, whether snowboarding/skiing or a dance, he does not leave until all the students' rides have arrived. And there have been many instances over the years where he is there for over an hour waiting, though the parents had been well-informed of the pick-up time.
Each of the book titles is from a play that Ingrid is performing in. Sometimes they are student plays and other times they are community plays. The first is about Alice in Wonderland, the second about The Wizard of Oz, and the third Hansel & Gretel. Again, very subtly, these plays are a kind of metaphor for what Ingrid is going through in her life. Ingrid loves acting and she is a natural. But as in the rest of her life, the plays don't always run smoothly. Abrahams understands so well the ups and downs of this time of life. Things can change on a dime. An early teen can go from happy to sad in the blink of an eye.
I realize I haven't told anything about the plots, but you may discover them for yourself as you read these outstanding books. The third book was definitely the 'darkest' so far, and it shows why this series is more for young adults than juveniles. There are more upsetting situations; illness, infidelity, animal cruelty (the latter we do not see but we do know it occurred - difficult for this reader with a too-good imagination). The falls after which the town in Connecticut was named always features in the books in some way. The past history of the town is also important in the present day occurrences. Ingrid's grandfather owns the last farm in town, and this comes up in every book because of course developers want to use all this 'empty' space. The irony is that Ingrid's father works for the developers and her mother works in real estate. Ingrid and her grandfather are quite close, though he doesn't talk much about his past or his feelings; and he allows her to do some things her parents would not approve of such as shooting guns and driving a tractor.
It was a treat for me to read these three books. I enjoy mysteries but sometimes my beloved crime fiction is a little too graphic for me. In these books, I know that Ingrid isn't going to be assaulted or killed. Although there are bad guys, they aren't grossly bad. I can sit back in my chair and thoroughly enjoy my reading without wincing or worrying what might happen.
I mentioned it in my book report on Thereby Hangs A Tail that Spencer Quinn is a pseudonym for Peter Abrahams, and that is what drew me to read these books. Both the Chet and Bernie series, and the Echo Falls series are excellent and well-written, with warmth and humor and suspense.