Tinky’s Review: ‘The Leaf Reader’ more than a whodunit

  • Tinky Weisblat

For The Recorder
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: “The Leaf Reader” by Emily Arsenault (Soho Teen, 240 pages, $18.99) reviewed by Tinky Weisblat.

“The Leaf Reader” is a surprising, moving, and delightful book. This new novel by Emily Arsenault of Shelburne Falls is billed by its publisher as young-adult fiction, presumably because its protagonist is a junior in high school. The story will appeal to older adults as well, however.

Like many teenagers, Marnie Wells feels like a misfit. She lives in a rundown house with her brother, who has a reputation for being involved in drugs, and their eccentric grandmother, who teaches home economics at Marnie’s school and has a passion for odd collectibles.

In an effort to stake her own territory at school and in life, Marnie teaches herself to read tea leaves. Friends enjoy her interpretations of their fortunes. Like Marnie herself, they find the tea leaves intriguing but don’t take them too seriously.

Marnie’s readings turn grave, however, when a school athlete named Matt asks her to read his tea leaves. Matt is the close friend of a popular girl named Andrea who disappeared mysteriously several months earlier.

Inspired by the messages in his tea leaves, Matt confides in Marnie that he has been receiving strange emails from someone who purports to be Andrea. He enlists Marnie’s help in searching for his missing friend.

The pair begin by trying to find a young man named Jimmy, a childhood friend of Marnie’s who may have been selling drugs to Andrea before the girl’s disappearance.

Marnie sees stranger and stranger signs in the tea leaves as the search for Andrea and Jimmy evolves. She also starts dreaming about a fox in the woods, an image she has trouble interpreting. Soon she, too, is receiving mysterious emails, emails that warn her not to trust Matt.

Emily Arsenault is fair to the reader who likes a mystery, scattering clues throughout the book about Andrea’s ultimate fate. “The Leaf Reader” is a satisfying whodunit. It’s more than a whodunit, however.

In the final analysis, the mystery Marnie has to solve is one we all have to solve. She must learn to decipher herself: her past, present, and future.

She must also learn to understand her gift; as one friend observes, the insights she gains from her tea-leaf readings stem less from the leaves than from Marnie’s unusual mind and heart.

Marnie is a compelling heroine, and “The Leaf Reader” is a beautifully constructed book. Like the tea leaves Marnie consults for her readings, the novel communicates on many levels. Like Marnie itself, it is poignant and insightful.

Emily Arsenault will read from “The Leaf Reader” on Wednesday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m. at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.