Sketchy Behavior (Zondervan 2011) was written by Erynn Mangum, who, according to the back of the book, also wrote “the Miss Match and the Cool Bean series.” I have to admit, I didn’t know if this was one or two different series, and I was a little disappointed when I found out there was a Cool Beans series and a Miss Match series. Because really, isn’t it better as one? Doesn’t Miss Match and the Cool Beans sound like some sort of preteen all-girl pop band? I could totally see an episode of Full House where Stephanie Tanner starts this band (lead singer, of course) under the encouragement of Uncle Jessie, and when they get their first gig approximately thirteen seconds after the band’s formation (playing at the coolest girl in school’s birthday party, obviously), Michelle is so jealous that she tries to sabotage the whole thing. This would ultimately lead Michelle, and all of us, learning a valuable lesson about supporting each other and not being such a brat just because someone isn’t paying attention to you for five minutes GOD MICHELLE STOP BEING SO ANNOYING. And then we’d all rock out to the latest song by Miss Match and the Cool Beans.
So, Sketchy Behavior. Sixteen year old Kate thinks she is just working on an assignment for her art class, but really, she is drawing a police sketch of a notorious serial killer. The killer is caught thanks to her sketch, the media gets wind of Kate’s role in the capture, and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, Kate has police detail on her 24-7, she’s being lauded as a local hero, and (surprise!) the killer has an accomplice on the outside who is out to get her. Dun dun DUN.
As I said, I wanted to like this book – it seemed like an interesting concept, and I’m always on board for a good teen-girl-as-unlikely-hero story. But unfortunately, this wasn’t that story.
My main beef with the book was the pacing. For a story about a sixteen year old being in danger for identifying a serial killer, it was sort of… boring. A lot of sitting around the house, watching TV, doing homework. While I don’t doubt this would be pretty true to life in this situation, an interesting story it does not make. There were all kinds of tidbits that popped up and fell by the wayside, things that would have made the story much more interesting. For instance, Kate refuses to date high school boys because of some mysterious bad experience that she refuses to discuss. In any other book, this would be clear sign that this was going to come up later and possibly be quite important. Here… not so much. There were a LOT of things like that… Kate’s MIA brother, the relationship between her BFF Maddie and Maddie’s boyfriend, Maddie herself. The list goes on and on. And there are other items that come up here and there throughout the book, like her budding friendship/crush with one of the boys in her art class and her new found interest in religion, but they are so sporadic and so casually handled that they don’t make much of an impact.
I can give Mangum the benefit of the doubt here – it’s possible that this is the beginning of another series, in which case these storylines may play out in later books. But from the book itself (and granted, it’s an early copy, so this may be remedied before it actually hits bookshelves) and then little research I did on her website to solve that whole Miss Match and the Cool Beans question, I didn’t see anything that pointed in this direction. And even so, there were other parts of the book that just did not work. Most of the characters were rather one-dimensional and were often incredibly stereotypical. Her psychologist mother and engineer father? One just wanted to talk about feelings and healthy living constantly, the other shoved calculus books in her face whenever she got bored. I’ll let you guess which was which. And some of the other main characters were fleshed out so poorly that when the big plot twist/reveal was made about one them, the sudden change in character made NO SENSE because there had been nothing in his characterization up to that point to even hint that there was anything sinister going on below the surface. To add insult to injury, that storyline – the big giant plot twist that leads to the whole climax of the book – was just kind of written off in a line or two of speculation from one of the other characters. I mean, a major character suddenly goes from good to evil and there’s not much more of an explanation than, “Huh… guess he wasn’t what we thought. Anyway, moving on.”
What the book lacked in actual plot and character development, it made up for in pop culture and food references. OMG, the food references. The final confrontation with serial killer John X took all of about four and a half pages, but the sogginess level of every single bowl of Crispix Kate ate was explained in great detail. It was writing choices like this that were incredibly frustrating as a reader. There were places for interesting things to happen and they just… didn’t.
So sadly, I have to recommend that my fellow readers walk away from this one when it hits the shelves in August. Maybe it will turn out to be the first book in a series, full of lots of setup that will later be addressed and characters that will be further developed. But until we know for sure, save yourself the frustration.