In Lodge’s (The Crystal Navigator, 2014) latest middle-grade series installment, sixth-graders use high-tech wizardry to investigate a mysterious anomaly within a famous painting.
During a classroom video presentation about the Mona Lisa, Lucy Nightingale, 11, has a strange experience: “Her favorite painting seemed to be exploding before her eyes. Purple clouds swirled through the landscape, lightning ripped the sky, and Lisa was crying. Something horrible was destroying Leonardo’s portrait.” Apparently, only Sam Winter, her 11-year-old super-genius best friend, notices it, too. He diagnoses it as a “Zoom Seizure,” a “ghastly buzzing syndrome” that smashes the molecules of living things. But the painting isn’t alive…is it? The problem is perfect for SLARP—Sam and Lucy’s Anomalies Research Project—which exists to investigate weird phenomena. Luckily, Lucy’s parents have already planned a Paris vacation, which will give her a chance to visit the Louvre and, she hopes, find a way to protect the painting. Sam is tasked with tracking down a folio that may hold some answers, but first, he provides Lucy with a powerful, multifunctional gadget called a Quetzal that, among other things, can unlock any lock. At the Louvre, Lucy is surprised to see her classmate Melissa Blackwood, a frail, quiet girl who can also see the Zoom Seizure. Her efforts to steal the Mona Lisa necessitate a rescue by Lucy and eventually take both girls into the Parisian catacombs and far, far beyond. Lodge offers an intriguing blend of science, mysticism, art history, and adventure in this book. Her characters and dialogue are amusing, but they don’t lose sight of serious matters at stake—a style that’s reminiscent of such classics as Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Some events and characters, such as Wilbur, a “Wise One” in the form of a talking corgi dog, can be confusing; the series’ previous title isn’t mentioned in the front or back matter, so new readers may feel as if they’ve walked into a movie that’s already started. Also, story problems are often overcome by science that slides into anything-goes magic, such as Lucy’s ability to create things with her thoughts.
An imaginative, warmhearted, and often enjoyable tale of dangerous escapades.