The Boy Detective Fails

January 1, 2007

I can’t believe I never wrote a review of this! This book haunts me, I swear to god. Before I read this one, Joe Meno was just this guy who wrote some sweet short stories and a popcorn book about being a teenage punker. The Boy Detective Fails, though, is some next level. Y’know? It shouldn’t work- it should be precious and cloying and teenage writing excercisey, instead of maybe the best book since 2000. Which I guess probably it is.

It’s a cultural moment, for starters: do kids in 2009 read Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew books? I bet some of ’em do, I don’t know. I guess nobody else really did in 1987, when I was reading them, which is why it feels like something so personal to revisit: I never really talked to anybody about Nancy Drew, y’know? I consumed about a gross of garage sale Hardy Boys books in first grade, but so quickly that I definitely didn’t discuss them with anybody. They felt totally disposable, or more specifically inconsequential- like something that yes I enjoyed but so who cared. I felt affectionate toward them and a little bit embarrassed FOR them because of how outdated they were.

Which is kind of the crux of this, right? “But so who cared,” “I felt affectionate toward their outdatedness.” It’s dressed up in a cartoon of pathos, and if the core of it weren’t so, ah, gravityful? Full of gravity? Dense with … something? I don’t know, I guess just that this would be a pretty easy concept to do a bad job with, and to pull it off at all is pretty amazing; to pull it off this well, to sustain the a tone this sad for so long, it’s a goddam feat.

So yeah. I consistently sell copies of this from the staff-recommends shelf at my store, and people consistently DON’T sell them back to the store. I think I saw a used one once. Everybody reads this and then holds onto it and then replaces their sad heart with it. Amazering.

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