Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review: Masterpiece

Masterpiece by Elise Broach. (Grades 4-7.)

I'm afraid I can't sum it up any better than the jacket flap, so here ya go:

"Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays' apartment. He is very much a beetle. James lives with his mother, stepfather, and baby brother in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture, and before these unlikely friends know it, they're caught up in an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art..."

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this book from A Patchwork of Books, so thanks to Amanda for holding the contest and to Elise Broach and Henry Holt for providing the copies!

I loved the characters in this book. I especially loved Marvin the beetle and his beetle family. Although, I have to admit, if I found generations of beetles living in my kitchen I doubt I would give them long enough to draw me a little picture before I squashed them. The beetles in Masterpiece have a precarious relationship with the Pompadays. The book starts with the beetles going on a mission to retrieve Mrs. Pompaday's contact lens which she lost down the drain. From that point on, I was hooked.

The beetles live on crumbs scavenged from the Pompadays' kitchen and they take care not to be seen, lest the apartment be fumigated. They do their best to help out and Marvin's uncle has a talent for electrical work. Whenever the microwave or the toaster breaks, he shimmies inside to reconnect wires and get things back in working order. I found the whole beetle world to be fascinating.

I also loved the friendship between Marvin and James. Although Marvin can't talk to James, he does find ways to communicate. James's parents aren't exactly supportive and he doesn't seem to have many friends. Marvin fills a need for James as surely as the other beetles do what they can for the other Pompadays.

So, I loved the characters, but I found the plot a bit lacking. The mystery felt a little rushed and it was all over too quickly at the end. I kept waiting for a final showdown, but it never happened. That said, I think the art-themed mystery will appeal to fans of Chasing Vermeer and the quirky insect characters will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. An author's note provides some information about Albrecht Duerer, the artist whose work boy and bug replicate.

All in all, I liked Broach's Shakespeare's Secret a little better, but this is still a solid read and will charm kids with its loveable (and unloveable) characters. Check out Elise Broach's website, check out this interview with her, and read more reviews at Book Nut and A Patchwork of Books (among many others).