Alana Oakley: Mystery & Mayhem by Poppy Inkwell (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by J Wishart
This debut novel by Philippine-born Poppy Inkwell is the first in the Alana Oakley series aimed at 11 to 13 year-olds. Alana has just turned 12 and finished primary school. Her father passed away three years earlier, but Alana lives an eventful life with her mum in Marrickville, Sydney – all of which is well-evoked by the author’s animated narrative.
For its target age-group, this book is interesting in that it strongly features adult characters – albeit somewhat comical ones – with alternate chapters following Alana and her friends, then switching to focus on Alana’s groovy and young-at-heart mum, Emma – including her teen-dream job as an investigative journalist.
This dual narrative makes for a varied and lively read and enables layering of action-and-consequence that adds to the complexity and reader satisfaction. There is rarely a dull moment as Alana deals with new friendships, her first days of high school and a stolen jewellery item. Meanwhile, Emma has problems scheduling an interview with a famous and reclusive rock star around the interference of her mischievous friends, who also act as Emma’s self-appointed – and opinionated – personal stylists.
The text is filled with familiar popular-culture references and a slapstick humour that edges towards questionable in a couple of instances, but overall rollicks along and provides plenty of entertainment. The characters are likeable, diverse and fun and the narrative offers positive messages about responsibility, acceptance, friendship, support and loyalty.
Slightly wacky and sufficiently charming, Mystery & Mayhem would make a natural progression for those who enjoyed series such as ‘Go Girl’ as younger readers. As well as this, the series has the potential to appeal to older readers who still enjoy a bit of tween-age escapism.