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The Degrees of Barley Lick

by Susan Flanagan

The cover of Susan Flanagan's The Degrees of Barley LickFormerly a couple, Barley and Phyllis, expert teenage geocachers (individuals who search for hidden objects using GPS coordinates) now compete as bitter rivals in geocache competitions. To make matters worse, Barley continues to grieve the death of his father some months earlier, even exploding when his widowed mother starts dating Fred Newton, a policeman.

When Newton asks Barley to use his geocache skills to help solve a complicated crime where the life of a child is at stake, Barley is reluctant. He hates Newton, and taking on this assignment means he would miss the opportunity to beat Phyllis in an important competition. Eventually, Barley decides to help Newton and some thrilling exploits ensue.

Though some of those adventures miss the mark with pedestrian prose – Barley’s supposed car theft, for example – some nail-biting, suspenseful scenes are enhanced with breathless writing, including Barley’s daredevil illegal crossing from B.C. into the United States. Overall, the tone of Flanagan’s debut YA novel could have crackled with more electricity.

Another issue, most prevalent at the beginning, is the vocabulary of the teenage protagonists. Some of their expressions are downright jarring, as they are more suitable for their grandparents. Do teenagers today use such expressions as “shank’s mare,” “proof is in the pudding,” and “easy peasy”?

Where the book excels is in depicting geocaching as an exciting activity for any teenager with brains and gumption (the author is a geocacher herself). There are also some positive life lessons for young readers: give your widowed mother a break when she starts dating again; it is never cool for boys to disrespect women; don’t mouth off before you learn the whole story as to why someone has seemingly wronged you.

Barley and Phyllis are flawed. Barley is too impetuous at times, losing his temper and calling people disgusting names, and while Phyllis initially appears too good to be true, she knows how to throw a punch – sometimes inappropriately. But these faults enhance their authenticity.

Both teens are smart, inventive, and often kind to others. They are not perfect role models. But they come close, as they learn from their mistakes and become heroes.


Reviewer: Paul Gessell

Publisher: Running the Goat Books & Broadsides


Price: $12.99

Page Count: 386 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 9781927917404

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: December 2021

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Kids’ Books

Age Range: 12+