My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid
First of all, look at this cover, which includes not one but four people of color on it. Between the covers is an entertaining, well-crafted mystery. Plus something that probably made me more inclined to enjoy My Own Worst Frenemy, the first book in Kimberly Reid’s new Langdon Prep series: it’s got a bit of a Veronica Mars vibe to it, and I’ll explain why later. But here’s what the book is about.
I keep it to myself because that’s one of the things I do well, hold on to other people’s business. You never know when you might need it.
Information is negotiable, like currency. (p. 6)
Chanti Evans—pronounced “Shawnty, not Shanty like the towns where poor people live in a Steinbeck book”—is used to keeping secrets. Her mother, Lana, is a vice cop, and in a tough neighborhood where cops are distrusted and scorned, it’s safer to keep her mother’s real occupation under wraps.
When an outreach program at the exclusive Langdon Preparatory School funds three new scholarships for incoming juniors, Lana cashes in some information and arranges for Chanti to receive one of the scholarships. The scholarships are a new initiative, but no one on campus seems to support the program; none of the non-scholarship students befriend Chanti. The school’s headmistress, who was never in favor of the scholarship program to begin with, condescendingly looks down upon Chanti, Marco, and Bethanie. Chanti soon realizes that her new classmates at Langdon have secrets of their own, and she is determined to uncover some of them when Chanti and another scholarship student are framed for a series of thefts.
Actually, there are a couple of mysteries that Reid twines together, one of which I thought took Chanti too long to figure out. But Chanti’s motivation for trying to solve the mysteries without going to the authorities was plausible. What I didn’t find plausible was that absolutely no one at school would befriend Chanti, other than her fellow scholarship students. I mean, really? I can see why an author might do this for the dramatic effect, but I found it hard to believe. On the other hand, I did really like that while race does appear as an everyday issue several times, it’s not an Issue. It doesn’t matter to the story the way class and socioeconomic status do.
Chanti’s first-person narration reflects her character—she’s smart and not ashamed of it, with enough realistic flaws and doubts to keep her relatable. The frequent short flashbacks may bother some people, since I don’t think they gave that much insight into Chanti’s character as much as they explained the state of some of her relationships with a couple of friends and acquaintances from her neighborhood. Did the story require all the flashbacks? I’m not sure, but they didn’t bother me.
So, the Veronica Mars comparison. Yes, there are a lot of superficial similarities (both are about girls who are being raised by a single parent who works/has worked as a cop/sheriff-turned-private-investigator while attending school with a lot of rich kids even though they aren’t rich themselves and uses the knowledge she’s picked up from her mother/father to solve some crimes at school…), although Chanti doesn’t have the same sort of baggage as Veronica. But I think the tone of My Own Worst Frenemy is closer to Veronica Mars than some other YA books that have received the the VM comparison. I found Chanti easier to root for than Audrey and Neily in Anna Jarzab’s All Unquiet Things, more serious and less flighty than Hartley in Gemma Halliday’s Deadly Cool (which I admittedly only skimmed). Even if you haven’t seen Veronica Mars, if you’re looking for a solid contemporary mystery, give My Own Worst Frenemy a try. Then start watching VM ASAP!
Book source: public library.