Nobody’s Secret

Written by Michaela MacColl
Review by Arleigh Johnson

The young Emily Dickinson narrates this tale that takes place during her fifteenth year, in between her school terms. A handsome stranger, Mr. Nobody, happens upon Emily reclining in a meadow, making a bold impression on the curiously morbid young girl. However, events take a tragic turn when the young man is found dead in the Dickinsons’ pond and is presumed to have drowned. Emily makes it her private mission to find the truth behind his identity and his death.

Parts of Emily Dickinson’s poems have been cleverly worked into the story, with a snippet heading each chapter and phrases hastily scribbled by the protagonist as she is working to solve the mystery of Mr. Nobody. Lighthearted humor is placed alongside suggestively morose subjects – thus Dickinson’s known personality is alluded to but not exactly captured in this story. The town of Amherst, Massachusetts, is brought vividly to life, with several persons characterized from history and some from the author’s imagination. Emily’s sleuthing methods are practical, if somewhat improbably brave for a girl of her era. Some clues fall together too neatly, while others have the reader questioning the protagonist’s train of thought – overall, an appropriate enough mystery for young readers, its intended audience.

This novel, similarly to others which feature a historical figure at the forefront, is an excellent introduction for young readers who may not otherwise find an interest in the subject via school lessons. Nobody’s Secret allows us to view Emily Dickinson not as the morbid recluse usually represented, but as a curious young girl with strong convictions and the courage to seek the truth no matter the consequences.