Friday Barnes: Last Chance
R. A. Spratt
288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday. She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task. Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland. Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that. Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you. Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.
However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years. But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it. She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do. She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age.
So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country. Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave. But things do not work out that way. Right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend and being knocked down in the carpark on the first day doesn’t help either. Nor does being the brightest student in the entire school, being labelled “scholarship girl” by the school bully and being unable to help herself being able to point out the flaws and inaccuracies in the conversation and presentations of others. Antagonising the handsome, previously-smartest student Ian Wainscott adds to her woes, particularly when her roommate, the not-so-bright Melanie insists there is a romance blooming, something that Friday scoffs at. But their paths have already been inextricably interwoven…
Now, Friday, Melanie and Ian are Paris and they are discovering that the art scene is a hot-bed of crime as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa. Is the painting hanging in The Louvre a fake? And where is the original?
This is the 11th in this series that was first published in 2014 and which quickly became a favourite among those looking for a story that had some meat to it with a heroine they could relate to, including Ms Then-8. Since then Friday’s adventures and escapades have garnered a wide and increasing audience, including Ms Now 16 who will be thrilled to get this one despite being eight years older. But as well as the established fan base, this is such a timeless and quality series the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce it to a new generation of independent readers who not only have 10 others to fill their reading calendar but also another episode to look forward to in 2024. Even if they read nothing else this year, this is a solid foundation for the future.