Skip to main content

The Leaf Reader

Review

The Leaf Reader

Marnie Wells is, in many ways, a typical teenager. But because she is being raised by her grandmother in a rundown house and because her older brother recently recovered from a drug overdose, she feels very different from her classmates. Add her grumpy best friend and her skill at reading tea-leaves to the mix and Marnie is verging on weird. Interestingly, it is the tea leaf readings that initially bring her into the fold of a set of popular kids during her junior year. As it turns out, however, it is her family as well as something deep within her that makes those readings so hauntingly accurate. Marnie is the plainspoken and powerful protagonist in THE LEAF READER, a young adult debut by author Emily Arsenault.

"THE LEAF READER is a short but taut novel....Arsenault’s writing is brisk and no-nonsense. While her characters occasionally fall into “type,” they are also realistically surprising....[A] well written and entertaining young adult thriller!"

Tea leaf reading is something Marnie came upon by accident, having discovered a dusty book about it on her grandmother’s shelf. She taught herself this form of fortune telling by studying the book and memorizing the meanings of various symbols and images. After practicing on her best friend, Carson, Marnie gains a following among her high school classmates, often meeting them at the Clover Café. This is how she comes to know Cecilia outside their shared biology class; by reading her tea leaves and trying to find answers about Cecilia’s crushes. Or, rather, one crush in particular.

Her readings with Cecilia also bring Marnie closer to school basketball star Matt Cotrell, a bit of a broody and enigmatic character. Matt has been a sad figure of much speculation ever since the disappearance of his best friend, Andrea Quinley, last winter. When he asks Marnie for a reading, she knows his mind is on Andrea. Readings with Matt become more frequent, until Marnie begins to believe there might be something more between them. Still, she worries that he is not to be trusted. And that worry only increases as Matt reveals a set of anonymous emails he received from a sender he believes to be Andrea. Marnie is doubtful, especially after she begins to receive anonymous emails herself. What does Matt know about Andrea’s disappearance? Why is he so interested in Marnie’s childhood friend, Jimmy? Does any of this connect to Marnie’s brother, Noah? Drawn deeper into the mystery, driven by her curiosity and her need to defend both Jimmy and her brother, Marnie knows flirting with Matt is a bad idea. She knows she is really flirting with bigger trouble.

THE LEAF READER is a short but taut novel. Marnie is a perceptive young woman and a budding sleuth with a profound sense of justice balanced by the right amount of cynicism. Despite her desire to be popular, accepted and desired, she trusts her instincts (mostly) to keep herself safe and remains loyal to those who have no other champion. The temptations are all around her: to be with Matt, to party with the popular crowd, to ignore her brother’s pain, her old friends suffering and the inability of her grandmother to keep a clean home. Instead Marnie confronts these temptations and her own anxieties and learns to trust herself and the strange gift that the tea leaves bring out in her.

Arsenault’s writing is brisk and no-nonsense. While her characters occasionally fall into “type,” they are also realistically surprising. There are a few things that Marnie never comes to find answers for but the overall mysteries are well solved and there is solid plot development. THE LEAF READER is a well written and entertaining young adult thriller!

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 27, 2017

The Leaf Reader
by Emily Arsenault