The Trouble With Goats and Sheep (NetGalley)
Mrs. Creasy has gone missing and the entire estate is abuzz. Especially the residents of the Avenue. Mrs. Creasy was friend (confidant, even) to all–and knew the secrets that lived behind closed doors. She knew the secrets of number 8 and number 12 and even the beleaguered number 11.
Grace and Tilly set out to solve the mystery of her disappearance, starting in church by asking God to find Mrs. Creasy. After the service the vicar tells Grace that “we can stop people from disappearing by helping them find God.”
“Where do you find God?” Gracie asks.
“He’s everywhere. Everywhere.” The vicar waved his arms around to show me. “You just have to look.”
“And if we find God, everyone will be safe?” I said.
And in true ten-year-old fashion, the girls take him literally and set out to find God. Grace and Tilly go undercover, pretending to work on earning Brownie badges as they dust, sweep, and garden their way into neighbors’ lives. On the Avenue they find neighbors who have struggles and secrets aplenty: an alcoholic, a grieving widower, a couple slipping towards dementia, an aging bachelor, the neighborhood pariah. And each of their stories is overshadowed by a time nine years earlier when a baby disappeared and a man’s house was lost in a fire.
The story had some similarities to Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce series: a precocious little girl tries to straighten out adult matters, and in the process points them towards the truth without even realizing it. It’s also a coming of age story where little Grace idolizes a teenage neighbor and turns her back on her true friend Tilly only to realize that sometimes we’re lucky enough to be given a second chance.
One of the best parts of Goats and Sheep was probably the nods to everyday British what-nots: TV shows, sweets, household products, magazines, etc. I was so taken by the name brands which came so fast and furious that I kept a list: Milk Tray, Fairy Liquid, Quality Street, Babycham, Lime Barrels … oh my! (And I googled every one of them so I could get a peek into Grace’s life.)
Writer Joanna Cannon is also a master of putting words into her characters’ mouths that are rich with irony–most especially when they are discussing an apparition of Jesus that Tilly discovers on a drainpipe. When the reviled Walter Bishop, the novel’s very own Boo Radley, approaches the apparition saying, “I heard about Jesus, and I wondered if I might take a look,” he is turned away when a neighbor tells him, “Jesus isn’t here for just anyone, you know.”
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a delight, plain and simple.