Age Level & Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Face Value: Gorgeous. Even without knowing that this story was a mystery (which I can’t resist), I would have snatched this off the shelf eagerly. The cover illustrations hint at the many layers to this adventure.
Does it break the slate? So much! Theo and Bodhi are fiercely curious and rarely rely on adults to help them get to the next level of the mystery. In fact, the premise of this story is that the adults in their lives don’t have much to offer for support. They are too busy, too ill, or too judgmental of young people to give Theo and Bodhi what they need. So the two girls band together and find their own agency to get things done. It is so impressive.
Who would we give it to? Mystery lovers, inquisitive girls, and those with an interest in history will love this book. It is set during the summer in NYC, and that specific setting will also connect with certain readers. This book has wide appeal.
Review: Theo has taken on the head-of-household role since her grandfather’s death. Jack, her grandfather, had been a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a painter. Jack, Theo, and Theo’s mother all lived together in their aging family home. Jack’s income brought in just enough to keep everything afloat. When Jack dies suddenly and the income stream stops, Theo is suddenly in a desperate situation and must scrape together pennies so that she and her mother can survive.
Theo had the unfortunate luck of being present when her grandfather was killed in an accident. Jack managed to give Theo a few last words, but they were incomprehensible. Theo is stuck mulling over the meaning of Jack’s final statement. It has something to do with a painting of an egg that has always been in her family’s home…but how it’s connected, she cannot quite puzzle out.
A clumsy misstep brings about a discovery: there is another painting underneath the painting of the egg. Theo is now deeply intrigued about the origins of this possibly very old and very valuable painting that has been hiding in plain sight for years.
Theo is used to pursuing projects solo, but her new neighbor Bodhi inserts herself into the mix. Theo isn’t sure that she wants help or a friend. Bodhi doesn’t much care what Theo thinks, because she is new and town and bored. The two form a tentative bond as they investigate the mystery painting. Theo is a traditionalist and prefers to use the library and in-person interviews to find answers to their questions, while Bodhi relies on her technological prowess to dig deep. The two girls are an entertaining pair. Their friendship is delightful to read. Both girls have distinct personalities, and even though they disagree at times about how to solve the mystery, they always respect each other.
I loved the many layers to this story. As Theo and Bodhi found new information, they meet fascinating New Yorkers and connect with seemingly disparate historical moments. Throughout it all, Fitzgerald keeps the pace moving and always brings about surprises. The story is just the right amount of unpredictable. You will be guessing at the ending, and you will get some of that right, but there will also be surprises. That’s exactly how I like my mystery reading experience to feel. With two determined and independent girl characters and a multilayered historical mystery, Under the Egg was my favorite read of 2014 thus far.
Reviewed from a copy purchased at Powell’s City of Books.