Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
After you are done staring at the cover–oh you aren’t? Okay, look at it some more, I’ll wait.
Okay. Let’s talk about the book now.
A Pocket Full of Murder is about Isaveth, her three sisters, her father, and a boy she knows as Quiz. When her father is wrongfully accused of murdering Orien, the governor of Tarreton College, Isaveth is let down by the adults in her life and realizes that she will have to prove her father’s innocence herself. With a new friend, a boy with an eye patch who introduces himself as Quiz, she looks for clues and stumbles upon a truth so startling that it has her questioning everything she thought she knew.
On the face of it, A Pocket Full of Murder is a merry romp full of murder, magic, and intrigue. The novel offers an intrepid heroine who is satisfactorily flawed and whose struggle to live life truly will win over all readers. It isn’t that Isaveth has no fears that makes her a pleasure to read;it is that she moves forward in spite of all her fears that makes her someone to admire.
This has been a year for books about sisters and I enjoyed the portrayal of sisterhood in this one as much as I enjoyed the sisterhood in Elliott’s A Court of Fives. Annagail is the oldest sister, followed by Isaveth and then Mimmi and Lilet. I loved the bickering relationship between Lilet and Mimmi and the frustrated patience with which Isaveth, sometimes, deals with them. Very much a child herself, Isaveth is thrust into an adult role when her mother passes away and her older sister and father leave to work. Hunger becomes their daily companion and I found the depiction of poverty very sobering and true.
The worldbuilding is superb and the twists in the plot are something I have come to expect from Anderson after her very excellent sci-fi titles. The novel has a smooth flaw that does not snag on illogical moments that challenge the suspension of disbelief.
I said previously that if taken superficially, the novel is a fun adventure but when unwrapped and examined in more detail, the novel deals with darker themes than one would expect a middlegrade novel to tackle. For instance, Isaveth and her family are Moshites and are often persecuted because of their religion. The novel explains very succinctly who the Moshites are so I won’t but suffice it to say that the commonalities between religious persecution in the novel and in the real world are enough that teachers could easily use this book to teach about tolerance, inclusion, and diversity.
Another theme is poverty which I mentioned before. Sadly, our current economic environment necessitates discussion, and understanding, of poverty. A parallel discussion about privilege takes place in the novel and one I was very happy to see. Another theme in the book is masks, especially the ones worn by people. Public faces versus true faces; A Pocket Full of Murder deals with the faces people wear sometimes literally and how truly knowing a person is often an impossible venture.
The novel also portrays evolving relationships fantastically and one of the more intriguing ones is the friendship between Isaveth and Quiz. Though it may seem that Isaveth relies on Quiz quite a bit, the novel is careful to show that Isaveth is clever and has a lot of agency of her own. She can and does function independently of Quiz but that does not mean she doesn’t appreciate and look for his help. The novel is full of action and quite quick paced with brief moments of introspection that add a lovely depth to its otherwise furiously fast narrative.
The ending left me with hope that there is a sequel in the works. I certainly hope so anyway. I recommend this for all children and adults.