Been looking for a mystery starring a grade 9 nerdy guy / wannabe P.I. who is pretty clueless with the ladies, loves cooking class and who is crazy enough to start investigating some of the coolest kids in school? Look no further than Susan Juby's Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery. This book has a lot going on - a high-stakes mystery, some really funny moments, a sharp critique of high school social hierarchies, even a little cooking, which all combined, makes for a unique and entertaining reading experience.
Sherman Mack just started high school and he definitely falls in the social category of "almost invisible." Sure, he has a couple of friends, and he isn't the biggest loser ever, but he is far beneath the notice of the real social players at Harewood Tech: the cool guys and their "Trophy Wives." Sherman has a thing for Dini Trioli (the tenth-grade goddess who humors his attentions), detective novels (recommended by his friend Vanessa) and cooking class. Sherman might wish his mom was a little older, a little less into burlesque dancing and a little more into cooking and cleaning, but all in all, things could be a lot worse. The only thing that Sherman really worries about is the infamous practice of "defiling" that goes on at Harewood Tech. Every so often, a girl's picture gets put up on all of the school bathroom mirrors with a D written next to it, and after this happens, she is completely cut out of every social group. That's after she is publicly shamed and her reputation is dragged through the mud to the point that school life becomes utterly miserable. Sherman is worried because he suspects that Dini might be next in line for defiling. He decides to go undercover to find out who is responsible and to save any more girls from this humiliating and cruel fate. Sherman discovers that detecting, like getting the girl of his dreams, is not as easy as it looks.
Why you'll like it? Sherman is a riot, without being a caricature. He bumbles around and makes mistakes and seems totally real. All of the other characters, even the ones who appear in only a few scenes, are just as well-drawn, so that you can imagine whole stories about them beyond the book. I especially liked Sherman's mentor Fred King, who loves cooking and gardening and is surprisingly cool if you can get past the comb over. Mrs. Samuels, Sherman's cooking teacher, is great too, always offering up wisdom about what it's like to work in the food industry. I think what appealed to me most in this book is the fact that Susan Juby has produced a book that communicates just how brutal the effects of high school cliques can be, except she has managed to make her book funny. It never feels like one of those serious reads about the trauma and pain of high school, but it will make you think just as much. I'm hoping it's a series, because I'd like to see what Sherman solves (and cooks) next.