Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong. England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home. Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in. In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.
“A summer of Space Hoppers and dancing queens, when Dolly Parton begged Jolene not to take her man, and we all stared at the surface of Mars and felt small.”
I’m sure you know that feeling… When you’re completely captivated by a book and you haven’t even finished it but you already know it’s going to be among your favorites. That’s what I felt with The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. And I’m fully aware that this is not going to be a novel for everyone (I’ve read mixed reviews and we all have different tastes, after all), but it was perfect for me and just what I needed this past weekend.
“He doesn’t look like a murderer,” said Tilly.
“What does a murderer look like?”
“They usually have mustaches,” she said “and are much fatter.”
Joanna Cannon is a master of storytelling and this is just the kind of story I wish I had crafted. I love the writing, the humour, the references, the characters… I’ve already said it before, but small-town tales full of peculiar characters are one of my favorite ingredients in a story and I had been looking for a book that made me feel like Tall Oaks did, for quite a while. I’m so glad I found it!
“The policeman was very tall even after he took his hat off”
This is not even a town, but an Avenue. Nosy neighbors judging each other and taking matters into their own hands. In The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, we travel back to 1976, during an extremely hot summer. Mrs Creasy is missing and Grace and Tilly (two lovely ten-year-olds) are determined to find her. Because God is everywhere and so they need to ask Him to bring Mrs Creasy back. But why is He so hard to find? And is that Him on a drainpipe (that part was hilarious). I think Grace might be one of my favorite narrators ever, but Tilly was just the loveliest girl I’ve ever encountered in a book. She was only ten years old but I wanted her as my friend.
“You were the one who found Him, though, Tilly; not Grace”
“But we’re friends” Tilly looked at me. “We go halves on everything. Even Jesus”.
And if you don’t usually like child narrators, keep in mind that there are plenty of chapters told from the point of view of every neighbor, as each one of them has a secret of their own… It even features flashbacks. I knew this was a special story because it made me laugh (I highly value that in a book!) and smile and it would also be a great novel for teenagers, as I believe its message is still relevant. It’s about judging others by their appearance, fitting in and what friendship really means.
So yes, I admit I have a soft spot for quirky coming of age stories, both in books and films; and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was a wonderful one. If that weren’t enough, it’s also a mystery of sorts, although told in a lighter tone (even if it deals with some dark themes).
Why do I suddenly want Angel Delight?