Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Raised in isolation and home-schooled by her strict grandparents, the only experience Birdie has had of the outside world is through her favourite crime books. But everything changes when she takes a summer job working the night shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

There she meets Daniel Aoki, the hotel’s charismatic driver, and together they stumble upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—is secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell, and in doing so, realize that the most confounding mystery of all may just be her growing feelings for Daniel.

What it is: a YA contemporary romance set in Seattle

Who it’s by: queen of YA contemporary, Jenn Bennett

What it’s about: a girl gets her first job as a night clerk at a famous hotel in Seattle, and stumbles upon a mystery regarding a famous author, a secret identity, and an octopus called Octavia.

The protagonist is: a home-schooled 18 year old living with her grandfather who is obsessed with mystery novels.

The love interest is: a kind-hearted magician (who is also obsessed with mysteries)

Best bits: vivid characters, emotionally compelling

Read if: you want to read YA contemporary that stands out from the crowd

Skip if: you’re a plot-driven reader

Pick up a Jenn Bennett book, and you’re guaranteed an entertaining read, and Serious Moonlight is no exception.

Jenn Bennett writes the mostly wonderfully weird yet realistic contemporary YA. Her characters are always highly specific. In Serious Moonlight, our protagonist is an isolated homeschooled girl raised by her grandparents and her mother’s best friend who is in denial about her narcolepsy. Her love interest is a wannabe magician who lives in a hippy commune with his whole family and lost his hearing in one ear after a Houdini-inspired trick went terribly wrong.

Writing this, I wonder if “specific” sounds bad, like someone arguing about too much diversity in books these days. It’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a great thing. If I want to read a YA novel with characters unlike any I’ve ever read about before, Jenn Bennett is the author I think of. She includes a lot of intersectional diversity in her novels — fourth generation Japanese-American boy who is deaf in one ear and suffers from depression meets grieving homeschooled white girl with narcolepsy raised by her grandparents and her mom’s best friend — but she also just writes characters whose interests, dreams and fashion choices are utterly, uniquely their own.

Unfortunately, although it was entertaining, the plot of Serious Moonlight didn’t quite land for me. The character interactions, the growing relationships, the depiction of Seattle? All great. But the supposed mystery plot that brings the two main characters together didn’t grip me as much as I’d hoped. Our protagonists suspect that a famous, and famously anonymous, mystery author has been checking into the hotel every Tuesday for just one hour, and they decide to investigate. Maybe they can figure out who this mysterious author actually is. Maybe dark dealings are going on, and they can get to the bottom of those. Although the plot line goes more places than you’d probably assume from that description, it feels like more of a side-plot sized thing rather than the main motivator. Basically, they’re stalking a random person, and their motivation for this crime isn’t really all that convincing. It’s alright as a plot, but there’s a side plot with animal activists wanting to free the hotel’s tanked octopus Octavia, for example, that I found far more intriguing. If you read specifically for plot reasons, you might find Strange Moonlight a bit unsatisfying. 

But really, Jenn Bennett’s books are all about the characters, and those are as fantastic as always here. It’s probably getting a little late to recommend a “summer read,” but if you’re still looking for something light and fun, Serious Moonlight is an excellent choice.

What do you think?

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