Book Review: Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

utterly me, clarice beanUtterly Me, Clarice Bean

Lauren Child

Pages: 192

Price: INR 250

Publisher: Orchard Books

Rating: 4/5

I know you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but you really can’t help it with this one. The cover (both back and front) is just so striking and colourful and fun (you can’t really tell from this picture), that it’s hard not to pick this book up even if you haven’t already heard of Clarice Bean (which I had).

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean features the titular Clarice Bean, a feisty, funny girl of indistinguishable age (at least I couldn’t find any mention of her age in the book, nothing a quick Google search wouldn’t fix but my Internet has gone wonky at present so that’ll have to wait) (I couldn’t find a definite age, but one Goodreads review confidently pegs her down as a ten-year-old) who, as she describes, is the third oldest child in a family of six. The book follows the goings-on in her life at school and home as she navigates a dragonish teacher and a frustrating family. Clarice Bean (how I love the name!) has to do a book project for school, which doesn’t sound all that bad, but it has to be on a book about learning – yuck! The best project wins a prize and Clarice and her best friend Betty Moody definitely want the prize, even if the project sounds utterly dreary.

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean is a chapter book without any chapters; instead the text is broken up by days of the week. It has some brilliant illustrations that work wonderfully with the story and interesting typesetting that makes reading the book even more fun. As soon as I started reading the book, I read it like I would read out loud, only I did it in my head (the only thing that was stopping me from doing it out loud was the fact that mom was in the same room and she already worries about my sanity). It’s a first-person narrative and the voice is just fantastic – funny and perfect – and Clarice’s (and, by extension, the writer’s) personality just shines through.

The book is also broken up in places by chapters from a book that Clarice herself is reading. Her favourite book series stars eleven-year-old detective Ruby Redfort who is armed with cool gadgets, clueless parents and an exciting life. Throughout the book, Clarice reads bits and pieces from Ruby Redfort’s adventures and wishes she were more like her. Frankly, I thought Clarice was much more fun than her heroine, but I guess living a secret life as a schoolgirl detective does sound more thrilling. Reading detective novels makes Clarice see mysteries all around her (Scooby Doo convinced me that the building opposite my house was haunted by white-coat wearing ghosts. The building turned out to be a hospital). And it’s a mystery that saves the day.

Clarice Bean is very likable, more so because she isn’t perfect. She’s flawed and funny and creative and whacky – the perfect combination for an interesting character. The book’s sure to be a hit with any budding Clarice Beans all over the world.

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