I kind of hated reading this . I understand its goals and it had some interesting and touching moments, but was overall a slog to get through. One of many stories of childhood in the 1950s, I don’t think it offered any new point of view on the era. It does have an interesting look into grief and children, specifically losing a parent, but doesn’t dive as deeply into the topic as I wish it would have.
The Mutual Admiration Society is made up of young Theresa “Tess” Finley, her sister Robin Jean “Bird” Finley, and Tess’s “fiance” Charlie. The society was named in honor of Tess and Bird’s recently deceased father’s favorite song. The goals of this society are not entirely clear, but mostly focus on taking care of Bird, shoplifting, blackmailing people and solving crimes. If you enjoy Tess’s voice, you’ll really enjoy this book. I super didn’t. The entire book takes place over about 36 hours, and not much happens in that span of time. the events are kicked off when Tess overhears some shouting in the cemetery outside her and her sister’s window, and the supposed sight of a body being carried away. That body is most likely their Catholic school’s principal, Sister Mary Margaret, who has disappeared overnight. Tess sets out with the goal of solving “THE CASE OF THE MISSING NUN WHO WAS KIDNAPPED AND MURDERED,” (yes, that’s how it’s referred to every. single. time.), following the guidelines of a book on detection from the local library. They spend the next day chasing down leads while also doing their chores and avoiding the mean neighbor tasked with checking in on them.
My biggest issue with the book is less the story, and more the voice it’s written in. Everything is from Tess’s POV and 80% of Tess’s thoughts read like a very tedious mystery noir parody. Basically every sentence is crammed with three too many similes, and it takes twice as long to get any information as it should. This could have been great as a much shorter story, with some editing down of the very extreme voice and some extraneous neighbors left out. At the length it is, Tess’ voice quickly becomes grating and insufferable. The point of having only Tess’ point of view is obvious, and we can clearly see through her blind spots, but the biggest issue is that Tess never actually learns anything. She doesn’t actually accomplish any detective work, she and Bird pretty much just trip over a piece of “evidence” and ask an older kid what she knows. It’s especially concerning how she sees and relates to the rest of her family. Her mother has started dating again, and it’s hinted that the family is having serious money troubles, but Tess has little to no sympathy for her, and doesn’t gain any by the end of the book. I can see the point being made that the rose colored glasses Tess has for her father are what’s blinding her to what her mother is doing for her, but that’s never solved or even addressed.
It could be said that this is a story about growing up, but very little growing up actually happens. Despite the supposed impact of the great mystery, Tess is very much the same person at the end of the novel as she was at the beginning. Her thoughts on her father’s death, and teasing out the reality of her world from the melodramatic way she views it are occasionally compelling, but there’s a lot of stuff around it that’s a pain to get through. If you enjoy seeing the world from the perspective of a particularly annoying child, this may be right for you, but I had a lot of issues with it.