Meg Cabot’s Little Bridge Island series adds on another chapter with No Offense, a bland, sitcommy, corny, mindboggling and somewhat grating story about a librarian, a foundling and a single dad-slash-sheriff who manage to make a family.
Molly Montgomery has moved all the way from Colorado to the Florida Keys to accept a job as the head of the Little Bridge Island Public Library’s childrens’ services. The job is hectic and messy, but it helps distract her from her broken engagement. Also distracting: the fact that someone’s abandoned a baby in the library’s ladies room.
Enter John Hartwell, Little Bridge Island’s sheriff, who takes up the investigation. Molly is immediately offended by John’s attempt at corralling the situation and tries to take charge, causing them to clash. John is conveniently recently divorced and now taking care of his daughter, Katie, a young environmentalist who hates being stuck on Little Bridge Island. The mystery of the baby percolates and begins to crash into a series of thefts which have taken place at the library and local high school. It seems that John and Molly end up making a good team. But can a grumpus ever love a ditz?
The answer, to my regret, is yes. This book opens with the sight of a Latine teenager miming a sex act with two obscenely decorated gingerbread people in front of a group of children to get a rise out of Molly, which is completely successful and yet results in her forgiving him and letting him stay there among the toddlers and young children he was performing in front of. The patronizing relationship between this teenager and Molly is so retrograde it’s marginally offensive and feels like it was lifted from a PG-rated version of Dangerous Minds. It does not get better from there. And I am tempted to leave the review at that but oh, there are so many different ways and reasons why this is Cabot’s worst effort, yes, even worse than that time when she broke Mia and Michael up for books at a time.
Molly is… just an awful human being. She’s pushy, she’s self-righteous, she blasts information about an ongoing child abandonment case on the Library’s Facebook group using her private account and blurts it out to people who arrive at the library with gossip. She is a mediocre librarian, to boot – bad at covering her own blind spots. This is supposed to be because she’s ‘warm’ and ‘cares about people’ and not because she’s TSTL. How stupid is Molly? So stupid that she thinks the sound of a baby’s fussing in the ladies’ room is the result of someone leaving her “A box of adorable kittens” in there. She’s also an instant study in all things detective and repeatedly tries to tell John how to investigate the case.
John is supposed to be grumpy and overly authoritarian, but he mostly comes off as an adult trying to do his job in a professional manner. He’s clueless about his daughter and clueless about the world of women, but that’s fine. He’s the least objectionable part of the book, and his biggest flaw is blurting out private information about the mother of the abandoned baby.
His romance with Molly hits all of the stock, clichéd beats. His heart cracks open because of her vulnerability; they attend a fancy dress ball and see each other done up and gain a case of the heaving moists. It’s generally dull, and generally rote.
The mystery is not even a mystery, because Cabot cannot resist telegraphing every single move she makes and solves things by the midpoint of the story. And then she introduces a desperately outdated cult parody which belongs on an old episode of Dragnet and which also features a group that “rejects social norms” while supporting the abandonment of its members to “the po-po” (a word which was literally used in this book. Liberally. And repeatedly. Mostly by its only central latine character) and the right of its leader to abandon his child and its mother. It’s decades too late to make fun of hippies, and yet Cabot soldiers on. By the time she begins using Molly as a mouthpiece to speechify about property rights, one groans.
That, perhaps, is fitting, however, as Cabot also can’t stop herself from writing the novel-based equivalent of an old sitcom. The book creaks and groans with old TGIF-style clichés, and one can hear the pauses for laughter or ‘aww’ moments a studio audience would provide. Cornball mother-and-child reunions. A whole plot revolving around a parent-daughter dance. You get it.
No Offence is ironically named. Weirdly bland, striving for topicality while surrendering to tradition, it somehow manages to be offensive because of its blandness.