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For Readers Age approx. 14+
Grades 10+
 

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Review
< Back to reviews for ages 14+>

 Publisher's Summary:

Bradley, Alan. (2009) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. New York, NY: Bantam Books, a division of Random House. ISBN 0385343493. Litland recommends readers age teen and adult.

Publisher Description: 

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.  For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

   

Respect for self and others: This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.
 

The main character, Flavia, is a precocious 11 year old who initially may come across as “bad” due to her curiosity about, rather than repulsion from, death whether it be her reaction to the dying and murder of a man, or her description of a dead bird.  Her obsession with chemistry as an instrument of revenge against siblings also adds to this initial persona. However, the story fills in much deeper, and shows a character who later identifies strengths in her siblings, sees herself in her father (“I looked in his eyes...I saw my own eyes”), sees her deceased mother in herself, frequently engages in self-control needed to accomplish her goal (of solving the mystery and freeing her father), and has a healthy self-concept (“I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.”).  On the down side, she does manipulate others to attain her purpose, and recognizes that she is doing so; the means justifies the end goal. She does however consider consequences of every action and show contrition for mistakes made (except towards siblings).

 


Portrayal of Authority figures: The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”
 

Authority figures are true to form for the time period, making the story believable. The mother is deceased but as the story unveils, Flavia finds out much about her, increasing respect for her. The father figure is in charge of the household and rules obeyed. He does not oversee his daughters activities, however, and the lack of direct parental interaction presumably enables Flavia’s weaknesses in attitude and behaviour. Police are also shown in respectable form. Overall, there is no demeaning representation of elders, even the “bad guys”.

 


Citizenship and Patriotism: Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.
 

The story begins with intense sibling rivalry between poorly supervised girls, and so we would be led to believe little loyalty exists in this family. However, rather than choosing to solve the mystery simply for her own intellectual satisfaction and ego, Flavia solves the mystery in loyalty of her father. Her reflection upon her own long family heritage coupled with pride of being a Brit flavors the story. At the end, this pride in the British people as survivors gives her the courage to escape.  


Justice and Balance: A just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”

 

Flavia’s dialogue makes it quite clear to us that she knows when she is engaging in good or bad behaviour, and often is contrite with it. The notion of what is good, and what is bad, is clearly demarked throughout the story. She lies to the police for the purpose of determining best actions in defense of her father and his servant, Dogger. She recognizes the duplicity of doing so, as well as is troubled when she believes Father is lying as well.  Once past the first chapter, the story is uplifting and positive throughout. .


Aesthetic aspects Of life ExperienceLook for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.
 

The description of history, physical environment, interpersonal interactions, action scenes, etc. are rich and detailed. The writing style is complex in its colourful and sometimes unusual vocabulary, and humour is subtle woven therein.  Although not gory, the treatment of death without a humane component is a bit dark, and the description of some scenes may not be appropriate for younger readers. In one scene, Mary tells of how a man tries to attack her. While implying his intentions, they were never stated nor was much detail given of the possible attack, and so it is handled well in the story. Attraction and courting between boys and girls occurs at the appropriate age of teen years, is simple, innocent and portrays the attraction without unnecessary sexuality.



Other things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.
 

Written for adults, this story is not intended to delight the 11 year old reader in spite of its 11 year old protagonist. Its storyline takes twists and turns similar to Sherlock Holmes, its vocabulary and writing style are complex, and the main character lacks a parental figure to mentor and teach her right from wrong; thus she is self-teaching in this regard. However, for the reader who already has matured in moral judgement and critical reading, whether teen or adult, this story will be a delight. It is entertaining, adventurous, action-packed, intellectually stimulating and uplifting throughout. Highly recommended!

 

So what do YOU think? Read our thoughts on the book and join in the discussion: Litland's Blog   


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