Monday, April 15, 2013

Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Vol. 1 By Hey-jin Jeon and Ki-ha Lee

Imagine, if you will, that the great Sherlock Holmes was actually a female mystery writer, and there you have Lizzie Newton. Drawn in an impeccable anime/Manga style, Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries mixes a captivating murder mystery with beautiful artwork and Victorian history lessons. In this book, we are introduced to Lizzie Newton, a spunky young author who is trying to find her place in male-dominated Victorian London. Using a male pseudonym, Lizzie has become an extremely popular mystery author, but still is not taken seriously by male culture. All that will change, however, when she becomes a key witness to Sir Thomas' suicide... Or was it a murder? That's what she and her fiance/assistant, Edwin, will have to figure out. Met with great reviews, any crime buff will love this short, exciting tale.

What this book has going for it is a definite appreciation for Victorian culture. There are references to everything from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to budding Victorian science and standard socioeconomic interactions.Though this book is short, it is jam-packed with great historical information, making it perfect for teaching alongside Victorian literature or history. This book also includes very detailed and accurate scientific information concerning the Marsh test (which is also a key piece of the mystery). This is not only interesting to those CSI fanatics, it is also great to provide a context for an experiment in a science or chemistry class.

If there is one thing to critique about this book it is that the main character is not in any way original. Lizzie is a female Sherlock Holmes which, like Holmes, can sometimes make it difficult to like or identify with her, but she has enough quirky and humorous lines to balance out her more negative qualities. The only thing that separates her from Holmes is really her gender (the point is also made that she is at least ten years older than Holmes would be). This becomes a major part of her character as well as a major plot point. Lizzie wants not only to solve the mystery, but also to fight back against Victorian femininity at the same time. A lot of young female readers will be able to identify with Lizzie and her struggles against the male dominated world. Even today, female inequality still exists and affects women of all ages. This does not mean that male students will not enjoy this book. With an exciting mystery and strong characters of both sexes, Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Vol. 1 is a great book for all students, and I can't wait to read Vol. 2.     


Samantha said...

This seems like a really interesting story. I like the idea of a female Sherlock Holmes, and I think it would be interesting to teach along Victorian literature to maybe get students more interested in a topic that can sometimes be a bit dry to younger readers. I also didn't know what the Marsh test was, so that could definitely be educational for young readers from a science perspective! Also, the fact that it's short would be good for more reluctant readers.

JessicaGeelen said...

I feel like a lot of the books we've all been reading for this project feature female protagonists in traditionally male roles... And I love it!

While I know we posted often on blackboard that modern young adult literature is often really geared towards female readers, I think these books that don't focus on traditional female roles are a completely different animal. I think boys would find them interesting as well. I think it was Dr. Philion that pointed out that boys could learn more about looking at things from a girl's point of view from books with female protagonists and I think these kinds of role reversal books would definitely lend themselves to that idea.

baboonfan said...

Nick Petersen: Hmmm. From what you describe, Lizzie may not be the right narrator for a female orientated unit of study. Or maybe she is? This reminded me of Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own, where she tells the story of what would happen if Shakespeare was a woman. It's an interesting examination of contrasts between the treatment of men and women. I think they could be used workably together in a lesson plan, and may spark an interesting debate over Lizzie's role in gender power. Is the fact that she is so similar to Holmes empowering or disempowering to her character as a female protagonist? Does she help women or not by being so similar?