It Will All Be Right by the End by Becca Podos
I have always loved a mystery.
When I was a kid, I had stacks of Nancy Drews, both yellow-spined and with modern (okay, mid-90’s) covers. I was acquainted with the Hardy Boys, the Boxcar Children. I’d followed along as Mary Kate and Ashley uncovered clues at the dog park, the mall, the ski lodge. Those girls tripped into mysteries. They couldn’t stop solving cases for five seconds, and that impressed me, because even back then I knew I’d make a terrible detective.
For one thing, I’m not good at puzzles, don’t even like them that much. Sudoku eludes me. I may die of shock the day I finish a crossword. I don’t understand jigsaws; if I wanted to look at a beautiful picture of a garden, I definitely wouldn’t buy one chopped into 500+ pieces.
People sometimes talk about “genre” fiction as a lesser form of storytelling than “literary” fiction, but I think it’s a narrative frame that dictates a story’s shape and determines who it rewards. And mysteries? They reward the readers who loves puzzles. So why, exactly, do I love mysteries?
When I was ten or eleven and read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I knew I’d found a detective after my own heart in Claudia Kincaid. Claudia and I both lived in Connecticut, both loved art, both competed for attention with our siblings. We were both searching for our own identities with all of our preteen resources, though her search was more glamorous than mine. While I quietly rotated between school, my shared suburban bedroom, and twice-a-week dance classes in a humid studio above the YMCA, Claudia ran off with her brother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bathed in a wishing fountain, and slept in antique curtained beds. To top it off, she had access to a mystery; the maybe-Michelangelo down the hall. She sleuthed around the museum and the library, encountered dead-ends and false leads, persisted. She and her brother tracked the enigmatic donor Mrs. Frankweiler back to her home. Sure, in the end, Mrs. Frankweiler practically gave them the answer. But that was okay. Because to Claudia Kincaid, the puzzle wasn’t nearly so important as the prize of the solution. She and her brother went home cradling the priceless treasure of their shared secret.
That, I understood. For the younger-me who devoured such books, the prize at the end of the puzzle wasn’t necessarily the solution, but the fact of the solution. The existence of answers you could count on, even if they seemed impossibly out of reach until the very last page. My own amateur teen sleuth Imogene Scott says early on in The Mystery of Hollow Places that “in mysteries, if nothing else you know that no matter how weird or dark or hopeless things get, one way or another it will all be right by the end.”
The shape of a classic mystery is so damn comforting, when you think about it like that.
Imogene is a young detective who believes in detective stories. She believes in them so wholeheartedly that when her mystery novelist father goes missing, she uses his books to guide her own story. But of course there are stories, and then there’s life. The straight-forward puzzle that Imogene sets out to solve evolves and complicates along the way, because life is like that. She uncovers truths about her father’s bipolar disorder, which cannot be so neatly contained by narrative. About her long-lost mother’s own troubled history. About the fragility and potential of friendship. About herself. About hollow places, and why they grow in some people, and whether or not they can be filled—one of the many mysteries in life for which there is no easy answer.
Reading The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in my small childhood bedroom, I didn’t know about mysteries like that. Sooner or later, I’d figure it out. I’d love friends and family who suffered from mental illness. I’d discover my parents as people instead of as caretakers to be depended upon or run away from (alas, never to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) I’d sever and reexamine and regrow friendships. I’d search for my own identity, and write a Young Adult book about that search. I’d come to believe that we’re all jigsaw puzzles without a box to contain us. We could spend a lifetime putting ourselves together without any guarantee of success; only the hope that we have all the 500+ pieces we need, that the picture will be beautiful, and that it’ll be worth the work.
I have always loved mysteries, but twenty years later, I’ve learned to love the puzzle after all.
THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES (Balzer + Bray) is Rebecca Podos’ debut novel. A graduate of the Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, her fiction has been published in journals like Glimmer Train, Paper Darts, and Smokelong Quarterly. Past Awards include the Helman Award for Short Fiction, the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Prize for Young Adult Writers, and the Hillerman-McGarrity Scholarship for Creative Writing. She works as a YA and MG agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston. You can visit her website and follow her on Twitter.