I’m not sure why I started watching Veronica Mars back in the day. I was already 40, and it’s a very very teen show. Still, I was hooked by the distinct characters, the sharp writing, the intriguing unfolding of the whodunit, the fierce and funny grit that actress Kristen Bell brought to her role, visuals of the California landscape of my youth, and by the issues of race and class that the show at least flirted with raising. There was something wonderfully different about Veronica Mars, and I had that same feeling of intrigued discovery when I read Lamar Giles’ YA murder mystery, Spin.
Don’t let the somber cover fool you; there’s plenty of humor and even lightness in this story of a young DJ whose life is cut off just as her career is on the rise.
DJ Paris Secord, or “ParSec,” as her fans call her, was a force, but she was also a regular teen with friendships complicated by her growing fame. Her lifelong friend Kya is the Veronica Mars of this story, determined to get to the truth of her friend’s murder. A new friend of Paris’s called Fuse, is Kya’s main suspect, though Fuse also claims to be searching for the killer. Author Giles nimbly keeps us guessing and suspecting almost everyone through most of the book.
My first inkling that something was different about this mystery was how the author made me truly miss and even grieve for Paris even though she is already murdered by the book’s opening. That’s quite a trick, and is accomplished in part by bringing us her point of view as one of the book’s three first-person narrators. I’m always conflicted about murder mysteries; I have a hard time with the normalization of girls and women as targets for death and assault. This was true of Spin, too, but I was won over by the author’s gift of giving us Paris’s voice—a rare act of respect for the murder victim, and one that gives her true dimension.
Spin is a real structural feat. Good whodunits are impressive, and in addition to deftly juggling the red herrings, clues, new suspects, suspense, and alternating points of view, the author gives us an extra bonus gift: music music music. Having the murdered character be a DJ isn’t merely a tool to add surface cool and a broader-than-normal pool of grievers and suspects. Instead, it’s the beating heart of the story. The book is suffused with a love of music, from old classics to the latest hiphop. When I read Spin, I immediately emailed Nikki Mutch, our inimitable Scholastic rep, begging for a playlist. And happily, eventually, there was one!! You’ll want it, too, and can find it here [https://spoti.fi/2EYW50L].
It’s hard to describe exactly why this is the closest I’ve ever come to having the same feeling that Veronica Mars invokes—it’s equal parts the unwinding mystery, the teen detectives, the ever-changing dynamics of teen friendships and conflicts, the humor, the currentness, the terrific writing, the great characters. It is such a good read! I read it back in January, and it stays with me. I can’t wait to read Lamar Giles’s next book — which is a MG, The Last Last Day of Summer, that comes out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Versify imprint in April. And his last mystery, another Scholastic YA called Overturn that I missed in hardcover, is coming out in paperback later this month. So I can have a full-on Lamar Giles fest!
One caveat: I’m not sure I would have picked up Spin with its current cover art, which I understand is meant to convey the importance of music in the story and telegraph the dread deed about to hit the cover girl. But it doesn’t also show the humor, liveliness, connection and warmth that are the true gifts of what could have been an ordinary mystery, but is so very much more. I loved Spin! And I want it to find all of its readers. Trust me and give this one a read; I think you’ll be sucked in and singing along, too.