Guest Review: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Thursday, April 23, 2015
Why I chose this book:
I remember absolutely LOVING Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, and Under the Egg has been compared to them numerous times. That alone was enough to make me want to snatch up Under the Egg.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Format: Hardback
Genre: Middle Grade, Mystery
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When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather's painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That's great news for Theo, who's struggling to hang onto her family's two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather's legacy of $463. There's just one problem: Theo's grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city--and her grandfather--the she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time. (Goodreads)

My Bookish Thoughts:
This was definitely a good MG art-mystery romp. It was pleasant, entertaining, and had a fine twist at the end that I hadn't expected. I wouldn't say it lived up to its promise of being on the level of Chasing Vermeer and Mixed-Up Files, but I was a fine read nonetheless.

The characters were well written, though occasionally, I got the suspicion that the author was playing the "diversity game" and including stereotypically diverse characters because it was "the right thing to do." In other words, the diversity felt forced, and the author rarely created legitimately interesting diverse characters.

However, I really liked the main character. Our heroine, Theodora Tenpenny, is a quiet sort of girl who is left to take care of her helpless, math-genius mother after her grandfather dies in a car accident. He leaves her with a mystery--a treasure hides "under the egg"--which can only mean the painting of the egg hanging on the fireplace. After discovering a possibly Renaissance Madonna and Child hidden behind the paint, Theo, and her drastically different friend, Bodhi, embark on an adventure to determine the identity of the mystery painting. I think that anyone reading this book will find at least some connection with Theo, if only because she says things lie: "I hadn't been to the library since the day Jack died, and while I mourned the loss of my grandfather, the library came in a close second." How can you NOT like a girl who loves the library so much?

Her friend Bodhi, on the other hand, was extraordinarily obnoxious, in my opinion. I think Bodhi was supposed to be that cute, impulsive characters that says everything on her mind and balances out Theo's sensibleness. Well, if so, Bodhi really overdid it. Her impulsivity put them into some pretty dangerous situations, and nearly even broke the law--and remember, they're only 13 years old! Even beyond Bodhi, there were so many characters that were willing to stretch the rules for these two girls. Why? It's just not realistic.

Talking about not being realistic--I believe I mentioned that giant twist at the end? Actually, there were quite a few twists, and some of them definitely smelled of deus-ex-machina. I did like the last one though, and it did seem to tie up everything quite nicely, which is vital for a middle grade book.

Something that I really liked about this book is that it really does teach the reader about art--without the reader feeling like they're being "taught." Theo has to explain things to Bodhi anyway, so we get to come along for the ride. Also, a lot of intense issues are addressed--including WWII and the Holocaust and Concentration Camps--and dealt with in a very age-appropriate yet respectful way.

Another think I noticed is that, though she may be on top of her art and history knowledge, the author's religious literacy could do with some brushing up. For example: priests do NOT have to keep secret everything you tell them--only during Confession, and Episcopalians (which is what the priest in question is) do not have Confession.

But these are minor issues. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book when I was 11 or 12, and I still did enjoy it now. But Under the Egg didn't have the innocent spirit and the pure goodness and the childish intrigue to the extent that Chasing Vermeer and Mixed-Up Files did. It was good, but it somehow missed that luminescence that defines excellent middle grade literature.

I gave this book 3.5 stars.
About the Reviewer:
People in the "real world" know Sophia as a pre-med chemistry major (who is obsessed with fiction reading). People in the "Internet world" know Sophia as a reader of classics and YA (who also happens to be a chem nerd). 
Connect with her at her Blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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