Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

Shirley & Jamila are an odd couple who learn a lot about friendship while solving neighborhood crimes.

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz. Penguin Random House, 2020, 221 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-12

Jamila Waheed and her family are new to the neighborhood, and still relatively new to the West, having immigrated to Canada only about five years before. Jamila has recently discovered her love for basketball, but Ammi has other ideas for the summer: science camp! Big-brother Farooq attended the same camp and didn’t love it, so any alternative would be preferable. None appears until Jamila meets Shirley Bone at a neighborhood yard sale. The two girls appear to hit it off, which is weird, because Shirley is . . . different. She’s extremely bright and perceptive, yet ignorant about simple matters like how to have a conversation. Jamila is nevertheless intrigued, and later delighted when Shirley proves to be the key for getting out of science camp. It’s not until the girls have been hanging out for a few days—Jamila happily shooting hoops—that Shirley’s true talent is revealed. She’s a detective!

Their first case together is The Affair of the Missing Gecko. But the story turns about to be a lot more than that. It touches on moral responsibility (particularly lying), ulterior motives (such as helping people for one’s own personal satisfaction), and rationalizing bad actions. But particularly friendship. “What makes us friends?” wonders Jamila, when fed up with playing perpetual Watson to Shirley’s Holmes. Her mother provides a clue: allowing the girls to hang out together was an experiment “to “see if they can learn something from each other that neither could from day camp.” (Unstructured time—what a concept!) Both girls have something to learn, and the strength of one can instruct the weakness of the other.

In some graphic novels the artwork doesn’t measure up to the story, but here they complement each other. The story never lags, the characters are well developed and very multicultural, and the conclusion is satisfying. If more Shirley and Jamila mysteries are on the horizon, bring ’em on.

Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

Considerations:

  • There’s some mildly vulgar language regarding someone doing a #2 in the pool; also, the word “turd” is exchanged between two siblings having a fight.
  • One character has two moms, but only refers to both of them once. The rest of the time, it’s “my mom.” This character’s unusual circumstance leads to overprotection from the parents and actually demonstrates, if one is paying attention, why it might be good to have a dad.

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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