If you’ve been following along with me so far, you know that I love a good YA novel. Not only do I think that YA authors create amazing worlds and fully developed characters, but the genre often manages to cover some pretty deep topics in a realistic way that I really appreciate—and Jenn Bennett’s Serious Moonlight, available in stores April 16, is no exception. Despite having a cute premise about a young couple falling in love while solving a mystery, this novel doesn’t hesitate to touch on some dark themes without being sad or depressing… and I commend Bennett for that.
After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.
Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.
In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.
To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.
Jenn Bennett created herself some really strong characters in Serious Moonlight, and it is because of these characters that the story is so successful. Birdie is a little frustrating at the beginning: She doesn’t come to terms with her medical issues, she seems to overreact when it comes both her emotions and Daniels and she’s very naive for a young woman of 18. But as the book progresses, she comes out of her shell and really comes into her own—and not only because of Daniel, which I appreciated. Because we don’t have Daniel’s POV in the first person, it’s a little hard to show his journey, but I really like that he pursues Birdie hard, but without being aggressive or cocky. He acts like a typical teenager, and I felt like they were learning a lot about love together.
These characters also both suffer from medical issues that really affect them, but those pieces aren’t the sole focus of the book. They are mentioned many times, sure, because it is a big part of their lives, but it didn’t bog down or hinder the plot in any way. And for a YA novel with a cute premise, this book tackles a lot of really tough topics including teen pregnancy, suicide, depression, narcolepsy, and death.
Now, about the mystery. It was really boring. I wasn’t invested in all in what Raymond Darke was doing, and even when the big reveal came at the end, I was neither surprised (even though I surprisingly didn’t figure it out until Birdie did) nor did I care. And after that big reveal, I feel like the story didn’t really go anywhere with it. There could have definitely been a more exciting mystery for this pair to solve.
That being said, the mystery-inspired dates that Daniel planned for Birdie were swoon-worthy. They were just on theme enough to prove that these two were really amateur sleuths, but they weren’t overly complicated or unbelievable. You can tell Daniel put a lot of thought into them and you understand why Birdie fell for him so quickly. These dates—and the amazing character development—is why I gave this novel the rating that I did.
Food for thought
The Moonlight Diner is known for its amazing pies—every day a new flavour with a new theme. So I’m going to keep this simple: What’s your favourite kind of pie?
“It took me a long time to figure out that not everyone in my life was meant to stay. But using that as armor didn’t shield me from future heartache. And even heartache felt a million times better than running away.” —Jenn Bennett, Serious Moonlight
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for the advanced copy, and to Lee Cartledge on Unsplash for the photo of the diner.