Jamila would do anything to get out of going to science camp. Shirley feels the same way about dance camp, but before they started talking at a garage sale, that’s where they were going to go. Gillian Goerz’s Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is about the plan Shirley hatches to let them off the hook.
It’s like Strangers on A Train without the murder. Jamila isn’t allowed to walk to the basketball court by herself. Shirley can’t work on her experiments (and, as it turns out, run a detective agency) if she’s under adult supervision. If they spend the summer together, however, Jamila’s mom will let her go to the basketball court with Shirley and Shirley can conduct her business from there. It’s a mutually beneficial plan and while their parents are happy to see them making friends, Shirley and Jamila are just happy to gain some freedom and don’t really put much thought into friendship.
If they had, they might have spent more than a day getting to know each other first, but it’s only ever meant to be a friendship of convenience. That it becomes something more is a surprise to them both, but that’s why it’s so great that Goerz sets this book in the summer. Jamila’s family are new in town and usually that move would be addressed by having Jamila start a new school (and maybe that’s still coming if the series continues), but with summer, Goerz gives herself more options, as well as time to focus solely on Shirley and Jamila.
To be fair, Shirley doesn’t stray far from the Sherlock Holmes mold. She’s observant, makes deductions, has trouble socializing, and even plays the violin (though Jamila’s never seen it). By default, that puts Jamila in the Watson position, but she’s nobody’s “silent sidekick.”
Most Sherlock stories take Watson’s perspective and it’s not like there haven’t been adaptations before, but Shirley and Jamila doesn’t feel derivative and a lot of that has to do with representation. Jamila’s family are Pakistani-Canadian and Goerz writes sibling relationships well. Jamila’s older brother, Naveed, isn’t home much but Farooq and Jamila are close and know how to push each other’s buttons.
Goerz has a great command of body language and it really shows during Shirley’s scenes as a detective. The first time she sees Shirley in action, Jamila is in a circular panel and it makes it look like she’s a soccer ball at Shirley’s feet. Later, though, it’s more about confidence than ego, like Shirley leaning against her own narration bubble. This is when Shirley’s in her element; and as Shirley and Jamila get to know each other better you see them learn to work better as a team.
The other great thing about this graphic novel is the way it shows characters handling conflict resolution (like Jamila’s mom shutting her computer to show Jamila she has her full attention). Jamila and her mom don’t always see eye-to-eye, and it leads to some nasty arguments, but while that might discourage some kids from talking, Goerz always stresses the importance of trying again. Sometimes it takes more than one conversation, but silence is never the answer and Jamila’s mom listens more the second time.
Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is available now from Dial Books.