"No Flowers for Marla." by Nanette Guadiano. from You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens. edited by Sarah Cortez. Pinata Books. 2011. ISBN: 9781558856929
Since this week marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I decided to share my thoughts on a story from a collection entitled You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens. For more on National Hispanic Heritage Month click here.
Marla is one of the few white girls in a primarily Latino high school. When she goes missing, and is later found dead, the police draw their own conclusions, treating the case as open and shut, but Gloria, a journalist for the school newspaper, can’t rest until she’s sure justice has been served. With pad and paper in hand, she interviews everyone who might know anything about Marla’s final hours, pressing for answers to the questions the police aren’t asking.
"No Flowers for Marla" might be a short story, but it has every element of an excellent mystery - suspense, red herrings, and a surprising conclusion. The beginning and ending of the story are a bit flowery in terms of description and emotion, but the middle reads like a detailed crime report, focusing on every detail of Marla’s murder. Gloria isn’t especially well-developed beyond a brief glimpse into her family life and her stubborn persistence regarding Marla’s case, but she is the most believable teen detective I’ve read about. Her role as school newspaper reporter gives her a plausible reason to poke around in the business of the case, and the roadblocks she encounters are reasonable for a teenager trying to solve a crime, but not so insurmountable that she doesn’t eventually figure it all out. I also think she is a much more believable character than someone like, say, Nancy Drew, because we get to see her emotional reactions to each clue she uncovers. She’s not just a vehicle for finding clues, but a real character unto herself who is affected deeply by the case.
Due to the somewhat graphic nature of the subject matter, I would say that is a story for older teens. Though the collection it comes from is intended to celebrate Latino Mystery Stories for Teens, race is not heavily important to this story. More important are themes of community, violation, fear, and justice. Latino teens will be pleased, however, to see characters who look and speak like them featured in such a wonderfully well-crafted story. The mystery kept me eagerly turning the pages, and the bittersweet ending made me tear up just a little bit. Teachers might like to use this story as a mini lesson in constructing a strong mystery story. It would also make a nice read-aloud for a mystery-themed library program, for Halloween, or any time.
Preview the story below:
I borrowed You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens from my local public library.