Moving to Rome unexpectedly would be hard for any 13-year-old, but via a series of mysterious synchronicities, Beatrice Archer soon finds herself embroiled in international art intrigue as well.
One night Beatrice witnesses a (bronze) turtle theft from her bedroom window overlooking the Fontana di Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain) in the Piazza Mattei. While her father, who heads the history department at the American Academy of Rome, is skeptical of what she saw, soon redheaded, white Beatrice is drawn into the legend behind the sculpture and the history of the Mattei family who commissioned it, including the fate of the long-suffering 16th-century duchess Caterina. Forced to marry a harsh man that she didn’t love, the duchess found solace in her diary (excerpted in the book) and a secret room below her palazzo, which Beatrice and her new friend Marco, a white Italian boy who’s fluent in English, seek to find. Eventually Beatrice deepens her understanding of the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood. Although a few plot details strain credulity, debut author Parks keeps the story moving at a jaunty pace, with rich context, footnoted Italian phrases, and art history pitched at just the right level and tone for middle graders. Readers can find online photos of the sculpture and the Palazzo Mattei di Giove to follow along, and an author’s note provides further context.
Just like gelato: dense, tasty fun that you can eat with a spoon. (Mystery. 8-12)