The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel

Review by Jennifer Irvine

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Publishing, March 2019

320 pages, paperback, $16.99 (USD), 978-1-4926-6464-2

Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7

Middle-Grade, Contemporary Realism, Mystery

He shoved her hard into the wall. Pain shot through her back as she crunched into the hard stone. She tried pushing back, but he had her pinned.

“No one outside the Order is allowed to say that name,” he snarled. “Not even a stupid, arrogant American girl. Now tell me what you know about the things in this letter.”

“Let me go,” she yelled, “or I’ll scream bloody murder until someone shows up.”

Create strong, capable girls, include diverse characters, throw in some bullying to overcome, include a missing or dead father, and round it out with a mystery to solve. All of these elements and more keep The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane rolling along like a well-played English football.

Julia Nobel’s middle-grade debut novel is about almost-12-year-old Emmeline—Emmy for short—whose famous child psychologist mother punts her into Wellsworth, an English boarding school. To make matters worse, Mom prefers Emmy concentrate on her studies while at this highly-competitive school, and has forbidden her from playing soccer—her passion in life. Emmy is also less than thrilled to be the new kid having to fit into yet another new school.

Luckily, Emmy meets Lola. Black haired and blunt, Lola is fearless, a fierce soccer player and an even fiercer friend. Jack, half Sri-Lankan and the black sheep of his family, completes their mystery-solving trio. Together, the three friends unearth the secrets of the Order, a mysterious and misogynist cliquey club of snotty boys and a pompous professor, but one in which Emmy’s dad might have been a member. Emmy is desperate to find out more about her father and why he disappeared, and thinks that members of the Order might hold answers to her questions. Some trials take them into dark places to test their courage. For instance, when Emmy arrives for her first meeting of the Latin Society, the building doesn’t have any windows or doors, so she must search for a way in or leave having failed this first test.

Although the character descriptions are good, they are not without issues. Emmy is constantly biting her nails, chewing her lip, and tucking her hair behind her ears. I wanted Nobel to occasionally deviate from these descriptions.

A host of other students populate the school including roommate and constant bully Victoria Stuart-Bevingly, a one-dimensional character who has difficulties with her parents and feelings of loneliness that is revealed too late in the book. There is also Jaya, a rich, well-dressed classmate who (amazingly!) happens to be friendly and kind.

Together, they walk through the trials of almost-teenage life, from trying to fit in to the perils of breaking parental and school rules. When Emmy arrives in the cafeteria, she finds out that she is wearing a rival school’s colours and not the Wellsworth green and grey motif.

Close to the end of the book, many questions are answered, but unfortunately, it’s in one large information dump. Instead, this could have been woven into the last few chapters.

Close to the end of the book, many questions are answered, but unfortunately, it’s in one large information dump. Instead, this could have been woven into the last few chapters.

In 2016, JENNIFER IRVINE quit her job of 31 years to finish her BFA in Creative Writing at UBC where she writes fiction, YA and is even dabbling in graphic novel writing. She has been published in York University’s Existere Magazine and UBC’s online Garden Statuary Magazine.

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