Book Review: 'Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery' by Michele Corriel

BooksKristina PinoComment

Fairview Felines is already one of the more amusing books for young adults (around middle school-age) I've read in recent times. Maybe it's because I do a lot of news writing myself, or because I still remember most of my time as an eighth grader and what an awkward time it could be; but Felines was a breath of fresh air. There's nothing complicated about it, and some of the situations, on a basic level, are pretty universal.

Here's the basic story theme from Michele Corriel's webpage:

A middle school mystery. All the cats in Fairview disappeared and only Thomas Weston, newspaperman extraordinaire (and eighth grader) can find them. All the while Thomas battles the never-ending hysterical headlines that pop up in his head!

I think what sucked me in, more than anything, were the headlines that consistently broke up the text. Every time there was any sort of change of pace, situation or setting, Thomas Weston (the main character) would see a newspaper headline flash through his mind. Most of them were witty, and at least half of them actually made me chuckle because I absolutely love puns.

The entire book is in Thomas' perspective, so you only get to know what he does or sees. He's your average eighth grade boy: frustrated when things don't go his way, confused about the way girls act, totally head-over-heels for this one teacher at school, and has a one-track mind about what he wants. 

Thomas wants to be an editor and write for a newspaper. In an effort to make some paces towards that goal, he suggests to his school principal they start a paper for the middle school, thinking the principal would immediately appoint him the editor. His grades don't match the big idea though, and the principal suggests a contest. The entire middle school gets a shot at being editor, and candidates must have a B average or above. Oh boy. 

His troubles don't end there. Thomas is also working through a mystery that has struck his small town of Fairview. Where have all the cats gone? Many suddenly went missing - just vanished without a trace. Thomas suspects the worst, and he especially suspects various adults around his neighborhood, including his science teacher. 

What I like about this book is that it maintains humor in a predictable situation (for adult readers), while keeping a fast pace with little room for fluff. For young readers, it also presents a few very important morals/lessons, like:

  • Don't be quick to brush things off as "coincidence"
  • Your middle school teachers have the best intentions for you, even if they act like they'd rather roast you over a hot fire in their remote witch cottage in the woods
  • Whenever someone starts acting strangely for seemingly no reason, especially an elderly individual, or maybe just your cat, it's a good idea to check in on what's really going on
  • Gambling and alcoholism can ruin a person on an individual level, but it can also ruin the lives of those around them
  • Find a goal and stick to it - with hard work and dedication, you'll get somewhere

I don't know whether it's a trend now or whether young adult novels have always done this, but the things I've been reading lately have placed some emphasis on alcoholism, too. For example, in the recently released young adult novel Chomp, Wahoo's friend Tuna is running away from her alcoholic father. In The Bad Beginning, the horrible Count Olaf is also a drunk. Alcoholism seems to be presented in extremes, perceiving alcoholic beverages to be evil in general. 

While most adults know that this isn't so, I wonder if we're beating kids over the head with this plot vehicle? I'm not saying it's a negative thing about Felines. Actually, Corriel handled that one quite well. The first plot give-away on who the real bad egg in town was when Thomas walked up to someone's porch, just to be greeted by a stranger with horrible whiskey breath and a bad attitude, but then Thomas (despite the warning bells) spent most of the novel focusing his scrutiny on another character. This of course, leads to one of the main morals of the story. In Thomas' case, the warning bells were completely on point. 

For an adult, Felines is a quick and fun read. Like I mentioned before, I did find myself chuckling out loud to some of the headlines that broke up the story. The humor had plenty of wit behind it, but not so much that you couldn't believe it came from a 13 or 14-year old kid. 

For a young adult, it could be a fun, but enriching read. Some of the tropes, like "average boy with genius female best friend" and detail repetition, have been done before. But once again, the newspaper twist gives it a fresh feel that makes it stand out. The best part is that you don't even have to like newspapers to enjoy the book. 

Thanks to Michele Corriel and her publicist Pam for providing me with a review copy! This book was originally released in 2010 and is now available as an eBook, which is the format I received the novel in. You could also check out True Lies, the sequel to Fairview Felines which has been released as an eBook.

Don't miss my interview with Michele which is also going up today! I'll update this part later when that's live.