A budding art historian becomes embroiled in a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Alexander’s debut YA novel.
Teenager Celine Caldwell’s life is going pretty well, now that she’s recovered from her parents’ divorce. A student at a swanky prep school, she has fabulous friends, a budding romance with the handsomest guy in school, and a fascinating internship at the Met, where her mother, Julia, is curator of modern art. The only flaw in Celine’s otherwise perfect life is her strained relationship with Julia, for whom “motherhood was never a professional goal.” All that changes one afternoon when a man menaces Celine, warning her that her mother must do what he wants or he’s going to the cops. Then Celine learns that two recently donated paintings have disappeared and her mother is suspected of stealing them. She launches into an investigation to clear her parent’s name. Like an uptown Nancy Drew, Celine traces the history of the paintings, which she’s collectively titled Southern Gothic, and unravels a complex tale involving blackmail, land theft, and the Ku Klux Klan. Even though Celine lives in the rarefied New York City art world, she’s a relatable character, not entirely sure of herself but figuring it out as she goes. Her voice is conversational and snappy, making for a quick, sparkling read, and the details about art history throughout add an extra dimension of interest. Celine also has a diverse group of friends who genuinely care for her and offer their talents to her investigation. Some characters can seem too good to be true at times, though; for example, Celine’s best friend, a Muslim girl named Baheera, declares, “I choose to remain true to my spirituality, my identity. Even in a post-9/11 city, I’m not ashamed,” which seems unlikely to have come from a teenage girl’s mouth. Celine also makes some questionable leaps in logic when tracking down the art thief, but for the most part, this is a solid mystery and a promising start to a new series.
Light, frothy, and entertaining.