The Mutual Admiration Society Synopsis
When eleven year old Theresa “Tessie” Finley watches her father drown, she determines to redeem herself and to honor her father’s memory by becoming the emotional caretaker and guardian of her younger mentally handicapped sister Birdie. Their mother hides her grief and immediately starts dating a man with hopes of marrying him but Tessie does not trust her mother and detests her new boyfriend.
She also names herself president of The Mutual Admiration Society, a group consisting of herself, Birdie and Tessie’s wannabe boyfriend Charlie. The group’s purpose is to either solve crime or use it to blackmail others as a way of earning money in case Tessie must take Birdie and run away from home for their own safety.
When Tessie witnesses what she believes is a murder in the cemetery behind her home, she must use all of her wiles to solve the crime while also dodging her mother and their evil next door neighbor lady.
The Mutual Admiration Society was an unusual read for me due to it’s setting and subject matter. It is a coming of age story set in a blue collar neighborhood of Milwaukee in the 1950’s. Tessie is precocious, stubborn and voluntarily carries the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. She is a young girl struggling to deal with her guilt and grief over her father’s death and the instability of her home life now that her mother is the sole support. Tessie believes herself her sister’s sole protector. She looks on life through jaded, accepting eyes, yet with a child’s limited experience of perception. In the process of investigating what Tessie believes is a murder or kidnapping she is exposed to the dark and questionable actions of the adults in her life, but also learns that assumptions are not always accurate and that truth is not always obvious.
In some ways Tessie is both a hero and an anti-hero as her hard scrabble life forces her into lying, stealing, blackmailing and other underhanded behavior, yet her childlike assumptions and fears and her fierce love and commitment balance the more negative aspects of her character.
Although this book deals with some dark life issues, it does so in a humorous way by telling the story through the eyes of a child. Tessie’s voice is very clear whether it be yelling in frustration at her sister, cussing under her breath, making her lists of priorities and suspects, thinking through her investigation, or finding ways to avoid her mother and neighbor. She is likable despite her many faults and it is her perspective of the world which the reader experiences.
I found myself both admiring and wanting to take care of Tessie and her sister, which I believe is the mark of a good book -engaging the reader in a fictional life.
Although this book is a clean read, there are some instances of implied or inferred immoral behavior as well as some foul language which Tessie uses in times of frustration and anger. Overall, I would recommend this story to any who like a light mystery which still tackles difficult issues.