Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child, reviewed by Simon Mason
It's unusual for a Guardian children's books review to be as negative:
there's an awful lot of detail and it tends to pile up all over the place, blurring the characters, clogging the dialogue and cluttering the plot. The theft-of-Mrs-Digby subplot appears in brief flashes at set intervals, breaking in like commercials for another story entirely. In the main story, clues arise at suspiciously convenient moments, like brightly coloured balloons, to be promptly solved by Ruby with a knowing wisecrack.
Codes and puzzles are at the heart of it all, some very nifty indeed, some a little shopworn, and others rather lame. Ruby herself is an odd mixture of likeable sauciness and child-genius stereotype. A child-genius is a challenging thing for an author to create, and I'm not convinced. There are some great moments - Ruby's exchanges with the Spectrum agents are funny and warm - but too often I'm told how clever she is (she's reading War and Peace in the original Russian, apparently) without seeing her intelligence in action for myself. Worse, I don't feel I get to know her. The chemistry with her best friend Clancy is intermittent, and she struggles to express herself beyond jokes and the endless "Jeepers", "Darn it" and "Boy, is this guy a prize potato head".
She's a cartoon who lives in a cartoon world, and I fear the brilliant premise, charming detail and occasional wonderful moments can't sustain her through the long haul of a novel. SIMON MASON