March 18th 2014 by Dial
E ARC from Netgalley.com
When Theo Tenpenny's elderly grandmother is killed by a car in New York City, she is bereft for many reasons. He was not only her link to the outside world, but also the only person supporting her and her (possibly autism spectrum) mother financially, apparently with a veteran's benefit, which is odd because Theo didn't think he served in WWII. Before he died, Jack did say that Theo should look "under the egg" and "for a treasure". In Jack's studio, there has always been a picture of an egg, and when Theo is looking all around it, she manages to spill rubbing alcohol on the painting, which removes a layer of paint to reveal an older painting of a Madonna and child. Theo sets off to investigate the painting with the help of new neighbor Bodhi, being careful because she thinks Jack may have stolen the painting from an art museum where he worked as a guard. With the help of a hipster librarian, Episcopal priest, and various others, Theo uncovers an even bigger mystery, which she ultimately solves so that she and her mother can stay in the family home and not be destitute.
Strengths: This had a huge amount of research into several areas, such as the paintings of Raphael, as well as the artwork taken by the Nazis, ala The Monuments Men. Bodhi and Theo work well together, and enlist the support of the right people. There were lots of twists in this that I didn't see coming.
Weaknesses: Theo's family circumstances were unnecessarily dire. Her grandfather would have been about 90, so didn't need to be hit by a cab and leave a bloodstain on the pavement, and she could have had a mother who was at least trying to make ends meet. All I could think was "Where are social services?" My biggest problem with this, and the reason I'm not entirely sure I'm going to buy this, is that it is very slow paced. Not a lot of action, and a lot of details about the paintings that are interesting but which make the story drag a bit. Still, a good mystery, so I am debating.
I can see this being a very strong Newbery contender because other teachers and librarians really, really like it. I did, too, but the number one complaint about middle grade books from my students is always "Nothing happened!" This almost always means that there was little action.