a fan of Flavia de Luce, the eleven-year-old protagonist of a series of adult mysteries set in England in the 1950s, for a long time. I've also wondered why she hasn't received more attention from the YA world. Her most recent adventure, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, isn't my favorite, but it is a great example of why Flavia, created by Alan Bradley, is such an incredible combination of adult and even children's fiction elements.
Flavia has an incredibly unique, sharp voice, and she's extremely knowledgeable about a sophisticated subject, chemistry. While she jumps on her bike and has the kinds of adventures that are the stuff of children's books, that voice that adult readers love so much might not be acceptable to child readers. Adults like her because a child shouldn't sound like she does or do the things she does. Child readers might just find her unbelievable. Adults don't care about believing her. Adults like that this brilliant child knows nothing about sex. In this
most recent book, she thought she could use her massive knowledge of
science to bring someone back from the dead. It was a childish belief
that adult readers would find touching. Child readers, on the other
hand, might not get that this attempt on Flavia's part was more about
character than plot.
I also suspect that Flavia isn't an entirely reliable narrator when it comes to her family. She perceives her sisters as hating her, but they have routinely come through for her over the course of the series. And in this volume it's clear that she hasn't understood her father's behavior toward her. I'm not aware of a lot of unreliable narrators in children's books or even YA.
In all these books a mom has been missing--a classic children's book situation. In The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, we get an actual dead parent. Children's literature is littered with those. What is really fascinating about Vaulted Arches, though, is that here we get a child suddenly learning that her family has a special function and that she is chosen--not those others--to be part of it. This is a cliche of children's fantasy, and there is almost a whiff of fantasy about Flavia at that point.
So what have we got here? While these definitely aren't children's books, do they have enough children's elements to bring young readers into the world of adult reading?
Alex Waugh of The Children's War has also been writing about Flavia.