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Book Review: Looking for Emily by Fiona Longmuir (Nosy Crow)

Illustrated by Carmi Grau

For ages 10+

[Ad – Review Copy] *

Longmuir's debut middle grade for the multi-award winning independent children's publisher, Nosy Crow, takes the reader to the edge and back with this gripping mystery thriller!! The cover artwork by Grau is stunning; the book stands out on a shelf, begging to be explored.

Although this is a middle grade rated kids book, I am recommending a 10+ rating due to the nature of the threat of knife attack by one of the adult male characters, and later in the story, an actual knife attack by the same man towards the main child characters (unsuccessful thankfully). The story also focuses on the emotional strain and consequences of children being abandoned by a parent - which can be triggering for some readers. Always best to be open from the start, especially when most of the time it's an adult buying or choosing a book for a child - and the likelihood is that they haven't read it!

About the story

Not all seaside towns are lined with colourful lights blinking along the promenade, dotted with arcades and donkey rides along the beach. Edge, is a small, sleepy, non-touristy, seaside town with an old lighthouse, perhaps once upon a time busy with small fishing boats or even pirates smuggling goods into caves.

The Hargan family have just moved to Edge from the city. That is, a bijoux family of two: mum and 12 year-old Lily. Lily seems to be the yin to her mum's yang; mum is optimistic and upbeat, Lily, on the other hand is in her head more, introvert, tough and is always on the look out for a mystery to solve. Have you ever sat on a train, or on a bench in the park and people watched, wondering what their story is, what's going on in their lives? That's Lily. She's observant and curious. She's alone and doesn't want to live in the most boring town on the planet. Alone, apart from her books: “Books were always there, ready to sweep you up and hold you tight whenever you needed them. They were the perfect company.”

Thankfully, one of Lily's teachers, Ms Hanan notices Lily's detachment from the rest of her class and challenges her to break the ice with someone, to say "hello". Ms Hanan, like the best teachers, has a sixth sense about kids. Even though she hasn't known Lily for long, she detects that Lily doesn't like to let anyone down or to lose a challenge. So, Lily meets Sam (well sort of, actually, Sam meets Lily). Sam happens to live next door, has two dads and twin brothers... and a male dog called Costello, and she's so grateful to have a new girlfriend. Together with Sam's best friend, Jay, the three of them become inseparable.

One afternoon Lily gets a bit lost on her way home and she discovers a mysterious cobweb covered doorway between two old cottages. Feeling like a place that time has forgotten, Lily explores alone, and up a staircase discovers a museum. This museum isn't quite right. It's filled with yellowing hand-labelled artefacts all about a girl called 'Emily'.

The story switches between Lily and Emily's realities, the reader has no idea who Emily is, and is reliant on Lily, Sam and Jay following the clues to solve the mystery. Emily had borrowed 'James and the Giant Peach' from the Edge library, it was her favourite book! The children head over straight away to investigate further using library records to see if they can find any family records for Emily or her family, and go through old newspapers to see if there are any child disappearances over the last few decades.

Every now and again the kids spot a strange man smoking cigarettes loitering near the museum, library or beach. He seems to be watching them. Somehow he must be connected to Emily's disappearance and the museum. But how? The closer they get to connecting the dots and solving the mystery, the more threatening he becomes, and one day shows Lily a "serrated hunting knife" under his coat. Perhaps this is a murder case after all? Once things become this serious, I'm relieved to say that the children do go to the police. Sadly, they don't believe them.

This isn't like a boarding school murder mystery getting the Miss Marple treatment, it's far grittier. The cover artwork is perhaps slightly at odds in its jolly design. This nerdy trio of kids is searching for a missing 11 year-old girl, whose sinister story is slowly pieced together. Lily is reckless and takes risks, along with Sam and Jay. It feels like a story about how kids can behave when they are on the cusp of adolescence and thinking independently, that they can take on the world and with that they can pull the wool over the eyes of their loving and caring parents (in this story) and plunge head first into mortal danger. Lily and her friends are brave, loyal, clever and relentless in finding justice for Emily. What they are doing essentially is solving a cold case.

Entwined with legends of pirates and a diamond the size of a fist, this seaside stormy mystery showcases the ingenuity of young minds together with a blind determination for justice and selfless compassion for an unknown child and her story.

By the way, not only is there a massive twist half way through, but the ending...

About the creators

Fiona Longmuir (author)

Fiona Longmuir was born in Paisley, Scotland. Shortly after, she picked up a pencil and never really put it back down. She writes stories about stubborn, oddball kids, having had a lot of personal experience in this area. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Bath Children's Novel Award and the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize. Fiona now lives in the Irish countryside with her brilliant partner and their very surly rabbit.


Carmi Grau (illustrator)

Carmi Grau is an illustrator based in Berlin. Inspired by the beauty of nature, she creates bold visuals by using her own vocabulary of colors and shapes. Carmi has created work for clients like Sony Music, Diageo, Facebook, Hallmark, Wired Magazine, Amazon, and many others.


Key themes



New beginnings

Buy the book!

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Format: Paperback

Publication date: 2 June 2022

Format: Kindle e-book

Publication date: 2 June 2022

Format: Audible audiobook

Publication date: 2 June 2022

*Nosy Crow provided me with a review copy of 'Looking for Emily'.

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