Old Photographs by Sherie Posesorski is the story of Phoebe Hecht, a teenage girl who is struggling through most boring summer of her life. Originally from the small town of Barrie, Phoebe moved to Toronto about a year ago when her mother married Greg, a very rich, very serious doctor. While her mother is excited about all the changes in their life, Phoebe is less than thrilled. Her only friend, Yuri, is spending the summer in Tokyo and her current crush, Colin, doesn't seem to know she's alive. Added to that is the fact that she misses her extended family back in Barrie, while her mother seems determined to erase any evidence of their old life, including forbidding any old family photos to be displayed.
Things don't seem like they're ever going to get any better until Phoebe comes across a garage sale being held by Mrs. Tomblin, an elderly neighbor. The two become fast friends and Phoebe soon discovers two things about Mrs. Tomblin. The first is that she suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is selling the majority of her belongings because her son is moving her to an assisted living facility. The other is that Mrs. Tomblin is in possession of a series of photographs taken by her aunt, a world famous photographer. Shortly after their first meeting, Mrs. Tomblin becomes the victim of a brutal assault and burglary. The police are baffled by the crime but Phoebe suspects it has something to do with Mrs. Tomblin's old photographs and vows to solve the case herself.
The characters are the strongest part of this book. Phoebe comes across as a normal teenager. She's very outspoken and hot-tempered but is completely tongue-tied around her crush. She argues with her parents but is never so disrespectful as to come off bratty or annoying. Colin, the object of Phoebe's affection, is smart and hard-working, spending his summer stocking groceries. He genuinely cares about both Phoebe and Mrs. Tomblin and his friendship with Phoebe naturally progresses into a believable relationship. Phoebe's mother is a conflicted woman. She loves her daughter and wants the best for her but has the misguided notion that the only way to achieve that is to ignore everything that happened in their past. The interactions between Phoebe and her mother are full of both friction and love, making for a very real mother/daughter relationship.
My only complaint is that we don't get to see enough of Phoebe's best friend Yuri, who serves as her sounding board for all things mystery-related. Since Yuri is overseas for the majority of the book, she and Phoebe mostly communicate via text messages and e-mails, which has the effect of making the interaction between the two girls pretty dull and lifeless until the end of the novel, when Yuri comes back from her vacation. For those last few chapters, the girls exchange such witty, natural dialogue that you wish that Posesorski had brought Yuri back a whole lot earlier.
The biggest problem in Old Photographs is that it is a mystery novel that lacks a mystery. The reader knows almost immediately what the burglars were looking for in Mrs. Tomblin's house and the only suspects that Phoebe comes up with turn out to be the guilty parties. There are no surprises, no suspense, and the entire novel comes across more as a coming-of-age story than a whodunit. The characters are so engaging, though, that I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel, albeit with a better mystery this time around.