reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
“Maybe she was doing the wrong thing, but that was the way she was.”
― Beverly Cleary, Fifteen
Serendipity Ranch. A place for young, rich and privileged teenagers to go when their parents can’t handle them anymore. This book is the third in a series featuring Nora Best, former PR professional turned detective. This novel is the third in the series, though I did not find it necessary to read the first two, though there are several mentions of what happened before. Nora is on the road in her beloved Airstream trailer with her cat Mooch and dog Murph. While she is waiting for a large insurance settlement to come through, she has to find a way to make ends meet financially. While driving in Michigan, she sees what could be a kidnapping, but as it turns out, it is a wealthy family shipping their daughter off to a reform camp. When she gets a random call from the director of a place called Serendipity Ranch, she answers the call and finds herself with a job as a housemother at a reform school for girls in the woods of Northern Montana. They market the camp to wealthy parents as a place to send their daughters, when they cannot be handled at home. Soon after taking the position, Nora finds that all is not right at Serendipity Ranch. There is a much darker side to the reform school and the directors that own it, and she may be in danger.
In order to enjoy this page-turner, you must suspend belief that these things could actually happen and also realize that Nora is not an actual detective. When Nora takes this job, she is broke, struggling to even fill her airstream with gas. So when we wonder in the book why she would put up with what she does, money is a motivating factor. There are several references to what happened in the previous two books, and we know she has been through some trauma. Nora also seems incredibly naïve in this situation. The reader is left wondering if she is really so naïve or desperate for money. After she starts her new job, she realizes a student has committed suicide, and another teacher is missing under suspicious circumstances. Then she sees the girls are essentially being tortured with minimal food, slave labor, and sensory deprivation. But there is no one to complain to. The police in the small town in Montana don’t listen, as they are tired of the girls escaping and causing trouble in the town.
Nora is a very likable character with her dog and cat, witty, and kind. This is not an exciting book, but it does become rather suspenseful at the end. There are so many great things such as girl power, romance and action that make this book extremely readable. It is a solid mystery and I will definitely go back and read the first two books.
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