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Pepper's Rules for Secret Sleuthing

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Nancy Drew meets Harriet the Spy in this action-packed and heartfelt debut middle grade following an overzealous amateur sleuth as she investigates a shocking family secret—and unravels the mystery of her developing feelings for girls. Rule One: Your loyalty is to the case. Amateur detective Pepper Blouse has always held true to this rule, even if it meant pushing people aw Nancy Drew meets Harriet the Spy in this action-packed and heartfelt debut middle grade following an overzealous amateur sleuth as she investigates a shocking family secret—and unravels the mystery of her developing feelings for girls. Rule One: Your loyalty is to the case. Amateur detective Pepper Blouse has always held true to this rule, even if it meant pushing people away. But when the results of Pepper’s latest case cost her any hope of the girl she likes returning her feelings, she decides that maybe she should lay low for a while. That is, until her Great Aunt Florence passes away under mysterious circumstances. And even though her dad insists there’s nothing to investigate, Pepper can’t just ignore rule fourteen: Trust your gut. But there’s nothing in the rulebook that could’ve prepared her for the family secrets her investigation uncovers. Maybe it’s time to stop playing by the rules.


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Nancy Drew meets Harriet the Spy in this action-packed and heartfelt debut middle grade following an overzealous amateur sleuth as she investigates a shocking family secret—and unravels the mystery of her developing feelings for girls. Rule One: Your loyalty is to the case. Amateur detective Pepper Blouse has always held true to this rule, even if it meant pushing people aw Nancy Drew meets Harriet the Spy in this action-packed and heartfelt debut middle grade following an overzealous amateur sleuth as she investigates a shocking family secret—and unravels the mystery of her developing feelings for girls. Rule One: Your loyalty is to the case. Amateur detective Pepper Blouse has always held true to this rule, even if it meant pushing people away. But when the results of Pepper’s latest case cost her any hope of the girl she likes returning her feelings, she decides that maybe she should lay low for a while. That is, until her Great Aunt Florence passes away under mysterious circumstances. And even though her dad insists there’s nothing to investigate, Pepper can’t just ignore rule fourteen: Trust your gut. But there’s nothing in the rulebook that could’ve prepared her for the family secrets her investigation uncovers. Maybe it’s time to stop playing by the rules.

30 review for Pepper's Rules for Secret Sleuthing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)

    Author pitched this as queer Nancy Drew for middle grade readers and this queer girl obsessed with Nancy Drew is d y i n g

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    ARC graciously provided by the author via Twitter contest! Pepper and her father travel to her great-aunt Florence's house to help her Aunt Wendy settle the estate. Pepper's mother, a police detective, has passed away, and to honor her memory and feel close to her, Pepper has cultivated an interest in sleuthing, using her mother's Detective's Rulebook to guide her. Her father and aunt don't get along well, and her aunt is frazzled because of a recent divorce. Her cousin, Andrew, is not Pepper's f ARC graciously provided by the author via Twitter contest! Pepper and her father travel to her great-aunt Florence's house to help her Aunt Wendy settle the estate. Pepper's mother, a police detective, has passed away, and to honor her memory and feel close to her, Pepper has cultivated an interest in sleuthing, using her mother's Detective's Rulebook to guide her. Her father and aunt don't get along well, and her aunt is frazzled because of a recent divorce. Her cousin, Andrew, is not Pepper's favorite person. When Aunt Wendy says that Florence died of a heart attack, Pepper doesn't believe her. A chance meeting with a neighbor, Jacob Buckley, gives Pepper a chance to recruit someone to help her who knows the area well, and soon the two are uncovering secrets, following suspicious persons, and finding mystery pills hidden in the bathroom. Pepper is sure that her great-aunt was murdered, but will she and Jacob be able to prove it... and survive? Strengths: Aside from an excellent murder mystery, this had a lot of good characters. Jacob is transgender, and this is mentioned just enough to establish who he is, make Pepper aware of it, and then just have him involved in the mystery, which is a very positive portrayal. Pepper has a few instances of wondering about her crush on a classmate who is a girl and worrying about how this will affect her relationship with her father, and then also moving on with the bigger story. This is a great way to present characters so that all readers can see themselves in stories that are not about their gender or sexuality. I loved the big house, and all of Florence's keepsakes, and also really enjoyed the ending. Most importantly, this is a MURDER mystery, and gets pretty gritty when it comes to tracking down the murderers. This is exactly what my students request over and over again. Robin Stevens' Wells and Wong mysteries, Jocelyn's The Body Under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #1)and Bunce's Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries has similar murders; Pepper's will be a bit more popular because it is set in modern times. Weaknesses: The cover made me think this would be a lighter, more humorous read, so I wish that had been different. Also, I will never be a fan of the dead parent trope, and Pepper's longing for her mother did distract me from the story several times. Just not necessary. In fact, it would have been more interesting if her mother were back home and Pepper consulted her. Her mother wouldn't believe it was really murder, of course! What I really think: I will definitely purchase this for my bloodthirsty students who want a good murder mystery, but I wish the cover were more ominous. Readers who enjoyed Coop Knows the Scoop will find this to be the perfect blend of detecting. family problems, and murder!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heatherblakely

    i really liked this and loved watching pepper work through some of her grief about her mom (who died when pepper was little) as well as her sexuality. the kids at school think she’s weird/don’t like her because of her sleuthing, and the first friend she makes at her great aunt’s is a trans boy and she also ends up with more sympathy for her whiny cousin by the end of the book. lots of good friendship stuff. my only hangup is that her mom was a cop. a detective, but called a cop several times and i really liked this and loved watching pepper work through some of her grief about her mom (who died when pepper was little) as well as her sexuality. the kids at school think she’s weird/don’t like her because of her sleuthing, and the first friend she makes at her great aunt’s is a trans boy and she also ends up with more sympathy for her whiny cousin by the end of the book. lots of good friendship stuff. my only hangup is that her mom was a cop. a detective, but called a cop several times and ehhh i kind of wish she were a PI or something instead.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Frances Diederich

    Nancy Drew but make her queer!!!!!! This book is everything I wish I had when I was in middle school.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Lambert

    A charming, twisty mystery that I think would be especially great for kids on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. I read so much Nancy Drew from age 8 to 10, and this definitely gives me a similar vibe, mystery-wise, but with modern sensibilities and stronger characterization. The three kids at the center of this story feel very whole and real, and are all grappling with big emotions. I loved the running theme of kindness and learning how to see things from another person’s perspective A charming, twisty mystery that I think would be especially great for kids on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. I read so much Nancy Drew from age 8 to 10, and this definitely gives me a similar vibe, mystery-wise, but with modern sensibilities and stronger characterization. The three kids at the center of this story feel very whole and real, and are all grappling with big emotions. I loved the running theme of kindness and learning how to see things from another person’s perspective. I also LOVED the representation of queer characters, whose experiences were handled with so much warmth and nuance. Highly recommended for young mystery fans!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    This is a smartly written middle-grade mystery that is perfect for wannabe-detectives. The author manages to pack in all sorts of great stuff, including dealing with loss, figuring out a sense of self, and learning to see things from other people's perspectives. The main character has a strong voice and a really determined personality and was really fun to spend a few hours with. Highly recommended for mystery fans of all ages.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neha Thakkar

    This book has the best earnest, eager, and hopeful main character who needs to solve the mystery. And maybe even keep her mom’s memory alive? I enjoyed this middle grade novel full of humor and heart!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Melleby

    Official blurb: McDonald has crafted a middle grade mystery for a modern audience, a debut chock full of heart that perfectly fills a much needed category for LGBTQ middle grade shelves. Pepper isn't just a queer Nancy Drew--she's a relatable and lovable character all her own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    I just finished PEPPER'S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING and I absolutely adored it! Reading this gave me some serious nostalgia for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I used to read as a kid. Except in this case, the mystery is all there with the added benefit of a modern upgrade. I especially appreciated the queer rep, which was done with so much nuance and care. Pepper is also the kind of MG main character that I love, smart, kind, inquisitive and determined. This would be a perfect read for I just finished PEPPER'S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING and I absolutely adored it! Reading this gave me some serious nostalgia for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I used to read as a kid. Except in this case, the mystery is all there with the added benefit of a modern upgrade. I especially appreciated the queer rep, which was done with so much nuance and care. Pepper is also the kind of MG main character that I love, smart, kind, inquisitive and determined. This would be a perfect read for 9-11 year olds; I really think it'll hit that sweet spot for that age group. Highly recommend this fun and mysterious story!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy_Someone

    This was uncomfortably pro-cop - not just in passing but pervasively, repeatedly, and explicitly. Other than that, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if you are willing and able to compartmentalize, or, like, pretend the book is set in an alternate universe, cop-wise. I can see how to some extent this made artistic sense - the protagonist, Pepper, loves solving mysteries, so it's an obvious choice for her hero (her late mom) to be a professional detective. The book actually has a good op This was uncomfortably pro-cop - not just in passing but pervasively, repeatedly, and explicitly. Other than that, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if you are willing and able to compartmentalize, or, like, pretend the book is set in an alternate universe, cop-wise. I can see how to some extent this made artistic sense - the protagonist, Pepper, loves solving mysteries, so it's an obvious choice for her hero (her late mom) to be a professional detective. The book actually has a good opportunity to complicate the "cops are heroes" narrative: another character is upset over the possibility that his mom might have done something terrible, and Pepper thinks, "Even though my mom's not around, I've never had to question my memory of her, or who she was when she was alive." Perfect time to then make Pepper question the memory of her cop mom! But the book totally misses this opportunity and doesn't go there at all. I'm not saying the book should have been like "SURPRISE her beloved mom was a bloodthirsty monster." I'm just saying it would have fit right in, thematically, for Pepper to start doubting whether her mom was as perfect as Pepper thinks she was, to wonder if her mom ever did things that Pepper doesn't know about and wouldn't like if she knew. I did not guess the solution to the mystery, and I stayed up too late reading it, so props for that. In many ways this is the kind of queer middle grade I've been wanting to see more of - fun and commercial (albeit with some dead mom feelings), where the queerness is incidental. Books like Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World and King and the Dragonflies are wonderful and important (in fact Ivy Aberdeen is a personal favorite), but they do strike me as perhaps the type of middle grade that appeals more to adults than to kids (just my guess as an adult reader who doesn't have kids). I think I would have really liked this book in 3rd-5th grade. Just, if kids in your life read this book, have a conversation with them about how cops in real life are a lot more complicated and not so heroic as they're portrayed here. Rep: main character is a cis white girl who seems likely to identify as bi or pan someday but who is currently just questioning and not ready for any labels; another major character is a trans boy. The word "transgender" is used on the page, as well as the word "deadname" (nobody's deadname is actually specified/revealed, but the concept is explained). IIRC no sexual orientation labels (gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, etc.) are used at all in any context. It's not my place to decide how good or bad the trans rep was, but just as an FYI, the protagonist tells the trans character, "I never would have known [that you were trans]" and the trans character reacts positively to this comment (to any cis readers who are unaware, it is generally not recommended that you say this to a trans person).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bernadette McHugh

    What a wonderful, energetic story! An engaging, smart LGBTQ female main character and some really well drawn supporting characters, this has a nice balance of outside mystery and internal mystery both being explored at the same time. I bought it for my 8 year old son but ended up reading it myself first!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    Loved the character and side characters a little predictable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adrianna

  16. 5 out of 5

    Austin

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maria Wang

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Basiliere

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daphne

  21. 4 out of 5

    Asha

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Friebel

  23. 4 out of 5

    Books4Jessica

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle (FabBookReviews)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lira

  26. 5 out of 5

    Madisyn Juliet

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

  28. 4 out of 5

    Theanticharles007

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lorien Lawrence

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