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When Did You See Her Last? (All the Wrong Questions) Hardcover – October 15, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–In this follow-up to “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (Little, Brown, 2012) 12-year-old Lemony Snicket is an apprentice in a mysterious organization and still stationed in Stain'd by the Sea with his stern and unimaginative chaperone, S. Theodora Markson. (Readers still don't know what the S. stands for.) Lemony and his mentor have been assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Cleo Knight, a brilliant chemist and daughter of the richest couple in town. Markson is content to believe the far-fetched theory that Miss Knight has run away to join the circus and considers the case closed. Lemony is convinced that the girl's disappearance is connected to a string of recent crimes in town and believes that only one man can be responsible: the villainous Hangfire. With a little help from his friends (most of whom are familiar faces from the first book), Lemony sets out to find Miss Knight himself and to stop Hangfire and his dastardly accomplices in their tracks. While the abundant wordplay and several unanswered questions may trip up some younger readers, Snicket goes to great lengths to keep his audience up to speed, recounting backstory and defining advanced vocabulary in a way that is never patronizing, and is in fact fairly humorous. The author's trademark wit and talent for sustaining suspense make this fast-paced, noir mystery a fun choice for kids who enjoy a good whodunit. And for the faithful fans of Snicket's “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (HarperCollins), this is a must-have.–Liz Overberg, Darlington School, Rome, GAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In book two of the All the Wrong Questions series, we find young Lemony still in Stain’d-by-the-Sea, still in the company of mentor S. Theodora Markson, but with a new mystery to solve: Where is Miss Cleo Knight? And what is the secret project on which she has been working? But as Snicket’s pal, reporter Moxie Mallahan, knows, those aren’t the right questions, at least as far as the big picture is concerned. These are: What is this job exactly? Where did you come from? How long will you stay? When will you leave? Why are you investigating things in this town? Though the Cleo case gets closed, the larger issues remain, becoming curiouser and curiouser. While we wait for answers, Snicket introduces a sometimes charming, more often alarming cast of characters: the bickering husband-and-wife police force (and their smirking son, Stew); Pip and Squeak, the taxi-driving Bellerophon brothers; the mysterious (and cute) Ellington Feint; and the mysterious (and sinister) Hangfire—all of whom keep the pages turning. The droll young Snicket makes a perfect presenter as he careens from difficulty to difficulty, yet always with his eye on the ball. Or is it? HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The major marketing campaign continues, including a national author tour. There’s no stopping Snicket! Grades 4-7. --Ilene Cooper
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In this series, (this is the second book in the series, although care is taken to make it practical to read this one without necessarily being familiar with the first one), Snicket has more to work with and has a grander design. The result is accordingly deeper, wiser, more inventive and more rewarding. What you end up reading is a sort of kid noir magical realism. You have a deadpan, world weary, gimlet eyed 13 year old narrator with a dark sense of humor and a seen-it-all vibe. But, this isn't your typical middle or high school noir in which each school kid plays a younger version of an established noir type, (cheerleader as femme fatale, jock as a goon, isolated nerdy guy as criminal mastermind, and so on). Rather, Snicket sets his deadpan just-the-facts-ma'am hero in an odd, illogical and twisted world filled with fantastical features.
The effect is a surreal yet restrained tale in which the prosaic and exceptional swirl around to create an unstable world. Sometimes this can be upsetting to adult readers, who expect a cute fun story from "Lemony Snicket". But while they are surprised by the unsettled and contrary Snicket world, kids take to it. Maybe it's because kid readers don't have settled expectations or aren't committed to conventional approaches and so respond well to the freedom of a Snicket book.
These books remind me a lot of Daniel Pinkwater's playfully mystical books, (say,Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl), but where Pinkwater is lively and upbeat the Snicket books all have a strong undercurrent of melancholy. Maybe a closer comparison is to Edward Gorey's works, but with much more word play and good humored genre bending. That's potent stuff for a younger reader, but there's nothing wrong with a challenge.
So, all of this is the long way around to saying that this book is sort of a mystery, and possibly a fantasy/adventure, and maybe a coming of age story, but most definitely an ambitious and rewarding introduction for a younger reader to non-linear and fantastical storytelling.
Please note that I found this book while browsing Amazon Kindle goodies. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
As for this particular installment, the surface plot is again fairly simple to follow, and the grim pictures of a dying town are offset by some of the amusing characteristics of its remaining inhabitants. But again, the surface plot isn't the real story, and through investigating a specific case, we learn a little more about Snicket's past, present plans, and even motivations.
Stain'd-by-the-Sea continues as the location for the apprentice and his chaperone when their attention turns to a missing person in "When Did You See Her Last?" Many characters familiar from the first book return for this story. Places and locations mentioned in passing in "Who Could That Be At This Hour?" become the settings for another excellent story.
My 9-year-old and I are reading this together and working out the clues (tips) to other YA stories and authors is adding to our reading list.
I find myself desiring to be in a state of unhurried delirium as I wait yet another year for the next volume of Mr. Snicket's experiences.