I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Published by Penguin on 2014-03-18
Genres: Art & Architecture, City & Town Life, Lifestyles, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Young Adult
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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Chasing Vermeer in this clever middle grade debut 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—that 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.
I love it when books have a big mystery and smart young heroines who are total survivors living hardscrabble lives. Under The Egg by debut author Laura Marx Fitzgerald is a short middle grade book that’s both a mystery and an ode to art history as well as kind of a love letter to New York City. It’s got interesting characters that are surprising in that they don’t stick rigidly in the bad guy/good guy role. I love that every character in the book plays a pretty darn important part and that we also get to learn something about history, even though the book is totally fictional.
Under The Egg pretty much opens with Theodora Tenpenny’s grandpa Jack dying. This sends her life into a bit of a tailspin, as her grandfather has provided for her family’s financials and Theo’s mother isn’t exactly a help as far as paying household bills. You see, her mother is fixated on a math theorem and can’t be bothered to help. Anyways. The bills are stacking up and all Theo has to operate from is a till of $500 that her grandfather had saved up before he suddenly died. That till won’t go far in New York City, where they live. One day Theo is doing some chores and putting this egg of honor under a picture of an egg, it’s a tradition, you will see when you read the book, when she accidentally spills some rubbing alcohol on her grandfather’s painting. It’s then that she discovers there’s a whole other painting underneath it and it might just be a lost painting of one of the masters, thus worth millions of dollars. With the help of new friend, Bodhi a girl whose parents are celebrities, Theo journeys all over New York City to find some answers relating to the painting and to hopefully find a way to keep a roof over her and her mother’s head.
Theo is totally a survivor and I really respected her character. I mean, she’s very resourceful. She can’t afford new clothes, so she repurposes old clothes and turns them into something unique and interesting. She’s also very, very poor but has pride. She won’t let anyone else pay her way. While self-sufficiency is pretty much impossible in our interdependent world, I can’t help but admire Theo for just how independent she is. Yet, we also get this glimpse of how good she could have it if she would just let other people in and let other people help her. When Theo finds a friend in Bodhi, it’s something very, very special to witness.
Fitzgerald does a fantastic job weaving in art history and actually making it interesting. I loved how we learn about different painting techniques and the Renaissance and also World War II. The book provides some good information about how the property of the Jews, including famous works of art, were pillaged by the Nazis during the Holocaust. I just loved how Under The Egg weaves fiction with fact, making it one of those believable totally fantastic stories. This debut novel is a pretty quick read and recommended to readers who like The Westing Game and From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.