This debut novel weaves art appreciation, restoration and dating techniques, and bits of history from the Renaissance and World War II into a fast-paced mystery.
As the novel opens, 13-year-old Theodora Tenpenny explains her thrifty hobby of collecting trash from the city streets and turning it into useful objects. Then she recounts what happened merely three months ago: She found her adored grandfather, Jack, lying bloodied on a city street and heard his dying exhortation to “Look under the egg.” Theodora, who has spent her life living with her emotionally incapacitated mother and her crusty, artistic, capable grandfather, knows she must follow this clue in order to become the family’s next breadwinner. (Readers must suspend disbelief regarding social services in Manhattan.) Fortuitously, Theodora befriends Bodhi, also 13 but a member of a family of Hollywood celebrities. Theodora’s knowledge of art history and Bodhi’s skills in acting and in technology enable the girls to puzzle out the importance of Jack’s final words. All the characters are relatively flat, including first-person protagonist Theodora, but an original plot with humorous swipes at rich-and-famous lifestyles and authentic references to New York City will keep readers interested. Occasionally, there are awkward or dense passages, but they are balanced by quirky encounters, as with Eddie, a tattooed librarian.
If Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code wrote middle-grade novels, this would be the one. (Mystery. 9-13)