“My Big Shoulders”: The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos


It’s been a good while since I read a mystery and, like protagonist Imogene Scott, it’s mostly been dime store paperbacks and Nancy Drew books. However when I saw this eye-catching title on the shelf of the library, I figured I’d give it a try.

(Side Note: What is the deal with either having one word titles or having long, poetic phrases? Whatever happened to simple things like Pride & Prejudice?)

The Mystery of Hollow Places is the kind of mystery that book readers will feel at home with. So what’s the enigma at the heart of this book? Well, there’s really two. The first is the Case of the Missing Mother, otherwise known as Imogene’s mother left when she was two and no one knows why or where. The second question is the Case of the Missing Father, where Imogene’s father leaves one night for reasons unknown. Imogene is convinced her crime-novel-writing father is on the hunt for her mother and she’s also sure that he’s left her clues to help.

The first clue is the remaining half of the stony heart that her dad, Joshua Scott, found on her maternal grandmother’s dead body. Really, it’s a romantic meet cute, you know, boy meets girl when she comes to identify her mom’s body. The second is a dedication from his first published book to a woman who might be her mother. So what’s a girl to do?

Imogene grabs her best friend, Jessa, and sets out to solve the Case of the Missing Mother, knowing that her dad is doing the same thing. In looking for answers, Imogene unlocks the secrets of her past, builds relationships with other characters, and discovers that she may be just as good a sleuth as Nancy Drew. For the sake of a spoiler-free review, I won’t say whether Imogene does find her mother or her father, but I will say that you will doubt Imogene several steps along the way and that the resolution—while excellent—is not perfect (as real life rarely is).

The characterization of this novel is what carries it, and Imogene certainly is a wonderful protagonist to tell this story. Her unique perspective and heavy-heartedness give weight to the mystery, her past, and her interactions with other characters. Imogene has to deal with a missing father who has had mental health issues in the past, a best friend she doesn’t fully understand or seem to like, her crush on her best friend’s brother, a stepmother who seems to psychoanalyze her at every turn, and a mother-sized hole in her identity. The main flaw in Imogene’s character is that she holds everyone at a distance, which makes it hard to connect with her relationships (other than the one she has with her father). Most of her relationships seem obligatory instead of wanted i.e. her friendship with Jessa. They were pushed together as children and they’re still friends. However, in true Disney fashion, Imogene learns the true value of friendship and family by the end of the novel.

The mystery at the heart of the novel is great and each step of sleuthing that Imogene goes through seems genuine. It’s also realistic because she’s a teen girl with limited funds, a car, friends, and the Internet. She can’t hack, doesn’t pick any locks (even though she can), and uses her book-knowledge to help solve the case. The results of the mysteries are unexpected in their own ways, but realistic at the same time. It’s a reminder that parents are people too, that the hollow place inside of us always yearn for answers, and that sometimes the best way to solve a mystery is to do it yourself.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is a debut novel from Rebecca Podos and I hope that we’ll see more from this author. There aren’t a lot of good old-fashioned mysteries in the YA genre, because there’s such a focus on darkness, thrills, and heavy issues. While this book does have its own heaviness, it’s a happy medium between Carolyn Keene and Mary Higgins Clark. If you’re looking for mystery, family drama, and books that deal with mental illness in metaphorical ways, then this should fill your hollow place.