In some corners of the Internet, the acronym ‘WWSDD?’ often evokes the adventures of Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby Doo, particularly as autumn draws in and the idea of investigating crimes under falling leaves becomes all the more appealing. A new use for the acronym may well come to pass with Wlosok’s just-released YA mystery novel: ‘What Would Sapphic Detectives Do?’.
How to Find a Missing Girl (or HTFAMG) is the debut from Victoria Wlosok, following the investigative adventures of Iris Blackthorn who, despite sounding like a character sprung free from a Sarah J. Maas book, is in fact an openly-queer teen private detective trying to solve minor crimes and uncover the truth behind her older sister’s mysterious disappearance a year ago.
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Such a premise will immediately intrigue any YA mystery reader worth their salt, those who devour the mysteries of Karen M. McManus, Courtney Summers, and Kara Thomas, and for whom the prospect of becoming a bonafide detective has never quite left their mind. Wlosok makes use of her page-time, building out the small Louisiana town that HTFAMG is set in, both picturesque and poisonous beneath, the perfect little football town sitting atop a hotbed of lies, deceit, and criminal activity, a la Veronica Mars.
It helps that along with the intriguing premise Wlosok has a dab hand at writing characters, making them empathetic and flawed in equal measure, ensuring that no one is too virtuous to be out of Iris’ radar of suspicion, nor anyone too villainous to be beyond the chance of redemption. Iris herself begins a stereotypical heroine – she’s spunky and troubled and smart as a whip – but Wlosok takes the time to build out the inner layers of Iris, making her compassionate and obsessive, someone who’s trying to balance multiple complicated relationships, including her best friendships with Sammy and Imani (the respective hacker and social butterfly in the joyfully queer group), with her estranged aunt with whom Iris lives, and with Lea, her former best friend turned nemesis turned reluctant ally.
Such character nuances help drive a plot that proves to be more the sum of its parts, managing to use mixed media to help touch on thorny topics such as true crime commentary, sexism, homophobia, school and societal pressures, drug addiction, and remorse and loss, all while keeping the tonal balance on point and ensuring that for every moment of dark – and this reviewer can’t emphasise this enough – revelation, there’s a warmth to Iris’ healing relationships with those around her or moments of redemption and growth for HTFAMG‘s cast of players.
Managing to skilfully combine excellent character study, sublime writing, and a thrilling plot, How to Find a Missing Girl is a perfect autumnal read for any YA mystery enthusiast. With a fresh energy and a unabashedly Sapphic lens, How to Find a Missing Girl is not only a brilliantly-realised mystery, nor a proudly queer romantic adventure, it’s also an auspicious debut for Wlosok.
How to Find a Missing Girl is out on 21st September from Hachette Books.