History Mystery: The Tangled Web: A Julie Mystery by Kathryn Reiss
Julie, one of American Girl Collection's newer historical characters, returns in her first historical fiction mystery. As the story begins, Julie is still trying to settle into her new life in a tiny apartment above her mom's store, Gladrags, on a busy urban street in the San Francisco of 1973.
"It's a mystery we manage to live here at all," Julie declared.
"This apartment is no bigger than my locker at school!"
Julie misses her big old house in the suburbs, with her best friend Ivy Ling just next door. However, being the new girl at the beginning of the school year does make her sympathetic with Carla, a new girl in her class, and Julie determines to make her feel welcome. And at first Carla seems perfectly at ease, telling Julie and her friends about her big new house in the historic "Painted Ladies" neighborhood, her talented brothers Tom and Tim, who are attending a private school, Maxwell Academy, her successful physician parents, and even her adorable Kindergarten sister Nancy. But gradually Julie and her friends begin to suspect that Carla's stories can't be true, and Julie realizes that her new friend is a real mystery.
Shadowing Carla only adds to the suspicious inconsistencies in her story. On a weekend sleepover, Ivy agrees to help follow Carla to find out if her story about her beautiful new house is true. The girls see Carla, walking a large, friendly dog, about to enter the house, and when they call out to her, she reluctantly invites them in for a quick visit, nervously adding that she is not allowed to have friends over when her parents are away. Carla hastily answers a few questions about family photos on display, but when a middle-aged man appears at the front door, Carla quickly pushes Julie and Ivy out the back.
But when Carla is absent from school the next day, Julie returns to the house, ostensibly to take Carla her missed work, planning to investigate further. Entering through the open front door, she meets the man she and Ivy saw the previous day, who seems puzzled when she asks about Carla.
"Carla lives quite a way from here. Carla's our dog walker," he says.
When the man good naturedly offers to give Julie Carla's address, Julie decides that she must pay a visit to Carla to ask her to explain her deceptions and to make sure that she is not in any danger. What she learns is not at all what she expected, and she soon sees that Carla's secrets have a story which goes much deeper than Julie imagined.
The Tangled Web: A Julie Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) gives the young reader a view of life in the early 1970s, a time in which girls and women found their lives changing radically. In the first book of the series, Meet Julie: An American Girl (American Girls Collection), Julie has to become an activist under Title IX to be allowed to play basketball for her school, and in this latest installment in the series, she and her mother and sister become involved with the rehabilitation of Viet Nam veterans in her community. There are no stereotypical hippies and flower children here, just ordinary people dealing with the challenges of their time.
As always for books in the American Girl Collection, an illustrated appendix illuminates the events and sights of those times, including, interestingly, those picturesque "painted lady" houses on Steiner Street which figured in the familiar opening to the television show "Full House."