Poetry Friday: Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl

In 1846 fifteen year old Emily of Amherst, Massachusetts, meets a mysterious young man whom she nicknames “Mr. Nobody.” Since he refuses to tell Emily his real name, she is regrettably unable to identify him when he turns up dead in her family’s pond. However, Miss Emily Dickinson feels a responsibility not only to find out the name of the deceased but also to determine just how he died.

I was reminded of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries as I read this murder mystery featuring a fictionalized Emily Dickinson as amateur detective. Emily, as portrayed in Nobody’s Secret, is a sharp, intelligent, and very private young lady who is already scribbling down poems in a secret notebook that she keeps hidden in a very secret place. Like Flavia, Emily is not afraid of dead bodies or possible confrontations with murderers, and she is just as determined and ingenious as that other fictional girl detective.

However, in this novel we have the added flavor and pleasure of poetry, and not just any poetry but the verse of Miss Dickinson herself. The author of this YA mystery writes in a note at the end of the book, “Emily’s poems inspired this story, especially ‘I’m Nobody! Who Are You?,’ which is about how enticing anonymity might be in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business.”

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog! –

Emily Dickinson’s use of “creative punctuation”–particularly all the dashes– annoyed editors and publishers in the nineteenth century and provoked them to change her punctuation marks to more acceptable ones. That kind of editing, in turn, provoked Emily Dickinson, and as a result she did not allow very many of her poems to be published, or “corrected,” during her lifetime. Her poems also often had several versions. I memorized the one above a long time ago with the words “banish us” instead of “advertise”, and that’s the way I quote it, frequently, to my children.

A good solid mystery woven around immortal poetry: what more could one desire? Nobody’s Secret would be an excellent Cybils nominee in the category of Young Adult Fiction.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts.

8 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl

  1. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    1. I’m intrigued. I’ll request my library to purchase thus one.
    2. You’ve really got to quit with all the great reviews, to I’ll never get anything done. 😉

  2. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    *OR I’ll

  3. This reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book with Nobody as the main character. 🙂 Love Emily Dickinson.

  4. Tabatha

    I like the she is facing away from us on the cover! Thanks for the review. I will seek it out.

  5. Thanks for the hot tip! I love book recommendations. =)

  6. Thanks for the book recommendation! I also found it interesting that Emily did not like publishers messing up her punctuation!

  7. Hi, Sherry. Thanks for the review. There have been some amazing modern poems written about and in the voice of Emily Dickinson. I’m still on the fence about historical figures being reimagined for murder mysteries (or zombie novels), but this one looks interesting.

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