By Ann Harth
Bernice Takes A Plunge by Ann Harth is a 5 out of 5 stars, fun, YA detective novel. At least, the main character is a detective-in-training. I can imagine many late elementary and early middle schoolers empathizing with Bernice, and maybe even mimicking her with her notebook on the playground.
The writing is excellent and filled with details that bring the scene to life. For example, right in the beginning as the reader is getting to know Bernice and her family, Bernice has a little squabble with her younger brother Jake that culminates with a milk soaked sponge hitting the window and “leaving a milky trail.”(p14 of 235) Through these types of details, we are immediately immersed within the scene. Again the same sort of detailed writing, “Her skin puckered and pulled. The silver tape was almost off,” (p61 of 235) I can feel that tape stretching the skin as it slowly peels off, can’t you?
Another writing strategy used well in the book is the full thought process (or lack of thinking of the consequences) of Bernice. We get to see her thoughts as she journals them into her notebook. Without this insight into her thoughts, her actions would make a lot less sense. It might require pages and pages to show us what she was thinking, but instead the action never slows as she jots down her curiosities and her hypothesis. Sometimes her thoughts give the reader necessary background without slowing the story down, also key to the charm of this book.
As an adult reading the book, there were a couple of times that I wanted to roll my eyes and say “that’s ridiculous”, but these silly pieces really kept the story moving forward and made it interesting. I can think of several of my students that never would have batted an eye, while I eye-rolled. One can’t help but like Bernice and Ike, although to be fair, none of the characters are unlikeable.
I would recommend this book and the precocious sleuth to any library, classroom or home with a pre-teen. There is no profanity or vulgarity. While there is a crime, the gentleman who committed it is actually quite nice. There is a bit of action that raises the reader’s adrenalin, but I would not consider the book to be scary.There are no religious tones to the book. Therefore, I feel comfortable recommending this book to a wide audience. Bernice is a fun little girl, who might be all the enticement a pre-teen needs to finish the story. I would hope to put a whole series starring Bernice in my classroom library.