Review: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Rating: 5 stars
Pub Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Genre: young adult mystery
Format/Source: paperback, from the publisher
Status: Book 1 in the Trouble series

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Sherlock meets Veronica Mars meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in this story of a wisecracking girl who meets a weird but brilliant boy and their roller-coaster of a semester that’s one part awkward, three parts thrilling, and five parts awesome.

When Philip Digby first shows up on her doorstep, Zoe Webster is not impressed. He's rude and he treats her like a book he's already read and knows the ending to. But before she knows it, Digby--annoying, brilliant and somehow attractive?--has dragged her into a series of hilarious and dangerous situations all related to an investigation into the kidnapping of a local teenage girl. A kidnapping that may be connected to the tragic disappearance of his own sister eight years ago.

When it comes to Digby, Zoe just can't say no. Digby gets her, even though she barely gets herself. But is Digby a hero, or is his manic quest an indication of a desperate attempt to repair his broken family and exercise his own obsessive compulsive tendencies? 

A romance where the leading man is decidedly unromantic, a crime novel where catching the crook isn't the only hook, a friendship story where they aren't even sure they like each other--this is a contemporary debut with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and the most charismatic dynamic duo you've ever met.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect the content of my review in any way.

I heard about Trouble is a Friend of Mine last year, when it debuted, but I didn't hear about it, if that makes sense. I didn't see my friends reading it; if they did, I didn't hear them gushing. It slipped by the wayside, and I'm so sad it did because I recently received both a copy of Trouble and its sequel Trouble Makes a Comeback, and I ADORED them! So I want to put this review out in the universe and tell everyone that if you've skipped Trouble on your TBR, you need to push it back toward the top.

I'm usually extremely wary of comparisons (side-eying every outlet that compares contemp books to TFIOS or genre titles to Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones), and I'm especially wary when the comparison includes something I love. In this case, Veronica Mars. I am therefore delighted to say that Veronica Mars is an incredibly appropriate comparison to Trouble both in plot/tone AND execution. With mysteries and thrillers, I think it's easy to allow the story to get really dark since common mystery plots include disappearances, murders, drugs, etc unless you're reading Nancy Drew or The Boxcar Children. I'm so grateful to Stephanie for not shying away from dark topics–disappearances? check. drugs? check–but keeping the tone balanced with a quirky sense of humor. It's exactly what I loved about Veronica, Keith Mars, and their wacky friends and acquaintances on the show. This rarely happens when I read (although has happened several times in 2016, which is a good sign), but I found myself laughing out loud several times. I don't read a lot of mysteries despite having loved Nancy, The Boxcar Children, and other formula series as a child, but I thought the mystery/mysteries in Trouble were intriguing and the humor definitely kept me reeled in.

Zoe is a wry kind of narrator but not in that way where you feel like it's the author allowing their jaded life experience to show through. She's just a teenage girl whose parents have split, and, as the new girl in town, she's looking for a place to fit in. I love how real Zoe felt. I work with teens, and she felt like an actual teenager to me. She's a little self-deprecating but also has her pride (when Digby says offensive things, even offhand remarks, her feelings are hurt the same as any teenage girl). She worries about things like grades and her parents/their post-divorce romances as well as boys and her clothes. She also lets the guys know when something is not okay such as their really sexist and hurtful comments, Felix's horrible t-shirts, etc. Zoe allows herself to be taken along for a ride (because Digby is kind of a steamroller), but she digs in her heels just enough and at the right places to be curious yet sensible, never truly naive. Random: I almost died when Zoe talks about periods in front of the guys, and they prove her point (cis guys can't deal with periods) absolutely correct.

Digby is a little more (a lot more) inscrutable. He has a tragic backstory, and so many characters are divided between the sympathy and scorn camps. Most of the town suspects that he and/or his parents are guilty of a crime, but, as Digby points out, he gets away with a lot because people who pity him don't call him out on his bizarre schemes. Digby is also incredibly smart. He pays attention to small details, and I found that as I read, I started paying closer attention to the little things Stephanie drops throughout the story. I thought it was fantastic that this complex character who has more than a little bit of mystery clinging to him helped me be a better, more observant reader.

I think one area the story could be a bit stronger is in the descriptions. It took me forever to get a sense of who the characters were because of some conflicting descriptions. I didn't know how Zoe looked for AGES (I know the main character looking in the mirror is such a cliche, but it helps form an accurate-ish picture, okay??), and I honestly though Henry was in his 20s for a few chapters. I think it's a sign of how engrossing Digby is that he got a lot of descriptions, but other characters weren't as thoughtfully defined. He's kind of like a planet with a major gravitational field. Although making everything realistic and... I don't know... everyman? Understandable to different readers? is an absolute strength of the book. I felt like everyone would be able to relate to much of Zoe's experience and obswevation. I would just like more physical descriptions.

One thing I would be remiss not mentioning is that at one point Digby pulls Zoe into the boys' bathroom. Another student make a comment about how he "heard she was a guy." Zoe objects to this statement, and Digby turns the whole thing into a Lifetime-esque movie joke. Zoe stands up for herself in this instance, but I'm not happy that she didn't object to Digby's (and the other boy's) transphobic language. This whole book kept me laughing, but this was definitely an instance where the "humor" fell flat, which is disappointing considering the rest of that entire scene was so strongly written. I do still love this book, and I've been recommending this book to everyone since I read it, but this scene has not gone unnoticed. One of my teens picked it up after seeing my recommendation on Twitter, and when she told me how much she enjoyed the book, she also said she didn't like that scene. Zoe does give a sense of not agreeing with the joke but more that it's directed at her instead of not agreeing with the sentiment's offense. I've reread the scene several times, and I think these two paragraphs could and should have been rewritten. The not-actually-a-joke didn't serve to further the plot so I am disappointed at its inclusion.

Overall, I really do love this book. It's actually hilarious, even with a misstep, and its characters are wholly believable and complexly written. I highly recommend everyone give Trouble is a Friend of Mine and its equally awesome sequel a shot.

Book Links:

About the Author:
Stephanie Tromly was born in Manila, grew up in Hong Kong, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. She is the author of Trouble Is a Friend of Mine and lives in Winnipeg with her husband and son.

Author Links:

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  1. I recently started getting into Agatha Christie novels. Thank you

  2. My favorite mystery book is also an Agatha Christie novel--And then There Were None.

    1. I've heard good things, although I've never read a Christie novel.

  3. I really love the Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton!

  4. Im really looking forward to this.