Drawing a Blank or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams (2006) by Daniel Ehrenhaft has a lot going for it. In addition to having a very straightforward, no holds barred, title Drawing a Blank also includes illustrations by Trevor Ristow.
More surprising (to me) was that I was already familiar with the book’s author, Daniel Ehrenhaft. In 2002 Ehrenhaft, writing under the pseudonym Daniel Parker, published the Wessex Papers trilogy. The three books (Trust Falls, Fallout, Outsmart) won the Edgar Award in 2003 for Best Young Adult Mystery. I didn’t know any of that while reading the Wessex Papers (or this book), but am inclined to agree with the hype. Like the Wessex Papers the writing here is smart both in the sense that it is clever and that it leaves readers thinking.
The story (as the full title explains) follows Carlton Dunne IV as he tries to rescue his father who is embroiled in an age-old family feud with another Scottish clan. In the process, Carlton runs away from his boarding school, visits the comic con from hell, meets a crazy girl who wants to be on “Cops” and continues working on his comic strip that runs in a local paper (thus the illustrations and the comic con debacle). As you might have guessed, Carlton wears many hats.
Carlton is also a really fun character, likably neurotic he brings to mind the protagonist of the Wessex Papers. A fact that makes sense when you realize the novels were written by the same person.
Although the book is a significant length, the chapters are short–averaging about three pages at a run. This is good because you can read them quickly. On the other hand, Ehrenhaft’s preference to end chapters on a cliff hanger becomes redundant after the eightieth time.
The story takes a while to get to the action, a fact Carlton himself acknowledges early on in a note at the front of the book. The time, however, is well-spent introducing memorable characters and explaining Carlton’s personal history. Most of the book understandably takes place in Scotland, but the scenes at Carnegie Mansion–Carlton’s boarding school–are a lot of fun even if they do more to set up the plot than actively set it in motion.
I’d recommend Drawing a Blank for reluctant readers who don’t read for lack of interest (even though the chapters are short with a fairly large font, the presence of footnotes and an involved plot might be daunting for readers who might read below level). Although this book is a bit more zany than any of the Wessex Papers, I’d also recommend it for fans of that series.
You can learn more about Daniel Ehrenhaft and his other books at his website DanielEhrenhaft.com.