Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1)
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press
Published April 24, 2009

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About The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on Goodreads

My Review

A long time ago, after I reviewed and enjoyed a mystery featuring a young narrator, someone suggested the Flavia de Luce series to me. I borrowed THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE from the library but only got maybe halfway through before having to return it. I liked what I’d read, but got sidetracked by other things and didn’t pick it up again until now.

Flavia is spunky and whip-smart. She has an interesting relationship with her two older sisters which mostly consists of giving each other a hard time and playing tricks on one another. There’s an undercurrent of protectiveness and caring in there, too. Sort of the only-I-can-mess-with-my-sister type of thing. It was kind of sweet.

I thought Flavia cleverly followed the thread of the mystery, having her own child-like moments here and there between highly analytical research, experiments and deductions. I feel like it should have been harder to believe that she’s eleven years old, but for some reason, I wasn’t really bothered by that as I was reading.

One section shows her listening to a long recounting of her father’s life at school. It’s interesting because it’s some of the only real interaction we see between them, but it goes on for a long time and sort of shifts the focus of the story to be about him from there on out.

Another thing to note is that there are a couple of racially insensitive (at best) situations or comments in the story. I’ve listed them below in the contents. To be honest, these are the kinds of things I have the most trouble with as a reviewer. This book is set in the 1950s and published in 2009 (which isn’t that long ago). I feel like the face-painting and Flavia’s comment could have been easily left out. They may have been historically accurate representations of ideas at the time, but including them feels insensitive to me, and none of them were critical to the story.

I enjoyed the mystery elements, and felt like the characters are believable and interesting. I wish it hadn’t included those few references.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on Amazon

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Takes place in England.

Flavia’s father and a friend had a performance routine in which they dressed up as a Chinese man using make-up and an unflattering accent. Flavia later makes an off-hand comment about colonization “civilizing” the indigenous people– though it’s unclear if she says this sarcastically. These things may have been historically accurate representations of feelings and behavior at the time the story takes place, but are at the least racially insensitive and prejudiced.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Flavia sees a young man kiss a young woman.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – Trigger warning for bullying, suicide and murder.
Flavia is the youngest of three sisters, and her older sisters boss her around and bully her sometimes. Flavia also commits pranks against her sisters. She also learns of a student her father knew who was bullied.

Description of a man throwing himself from a rooftop. Flavia discovers the body of a stranger in the garden who appears to have been murdered.

Contains situations of peril. Two scenes show Flavia tied up and locked away.

Drug Content
Adults drink alcohol socially.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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