by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Read: March 14, 2014
Published: March 18, 2014 by Dial
Source: NetGalley (thank you Penguin!)
Category: MG, contemporary, NYC, culture
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Summary: When her Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an Old Master painting underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old Greenwich Village townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: her grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Theo worries the painting may be stolen. With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around New York City, 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 don't read a lot of Middle Grade books, but I'm a huge fan of art themes, museums and the possibility of discovering priceless artifacts I never knew I had. For that, I determined Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald was going to be a book for me. Plus that cover is all kinds of adorable. Thankfully, I found this story to be both delightful and smart, a winning combination.
Theodora Tenpenny (Theo) is a thirteen year old girl with a lot of responsibility. Her grandfather recently died leaving her with their family's two-hundred-year-old townhouse (that is falling apart), an unstable mother and very little cash. He also told her one last message: he's left a treasure for her to find under the egg - a literal painting of an egg that sits over the mantle in his art studio. When Theo spills rubbing alcohol on the picture and discovers an old painting hidden beneath, she sets off to discover what it is and where it came from. In the process, Theo discovers new friends, and a side of her grandfather, and her beloved city, that she never knew existed.
Under the Egg is smart, well-paced and -plotted. I was as surprised as Theo about where this story, and especially the painting, led me. Although I love museums, I'm always worried about books that feature them, because they rarely get the details right. But this one did*. In fact, all the elements I questioned in this storyline were answered or discussed. For instance, Theo carries the painting around in a suitcase in the dead of summer, and I kept thinking she was going to damage it with the heat!! Thankfully, another character in the story addresses my concerns as well. However, not only the small details, but big questions like provenance and restitution of objects are part of this story, and discussed thoughtfully and accurately. In fact, there is a lot of fascinating and devastating artistic and cultural history imbedded in this story, and I soaked it all up.
Theo is quite isolated in this book at first. But then she meets Bodhi, the daughter of celebrities, and Theo's new neighbor. I enjoyed Theo and Bodhi's friendship a great deal. They were really great for each other. Quirky in different ways, but surprisingly perfect friend material. I had so much fun traveling all over the city with the two of them, visiting libraries, museums and research centers, and meeting all sorts of people in the process. I especially liked Eddie, the over enthusiastic librarian.
At the end of the book, Theo still has a lot of responsibility. More than a 13 year old girl should have to face by herself, and I worry about her future. But I'm thankful that she has friends now to support her, who will hopefully notice when she needs a little help from them. I also thought the way the mystery is solved happens a abruptly, and seemed a bit unbelievable. But it was still an emotional moment and didn't detract from the overall storyline.
Under the Egg is a quick read that succeeded in capturing my imagination, and spoke right to my passion for history, art, and hidden secrets. The author has even posted a discussion on her website about what in her story is true and what is not: Under the Egg: Fact vs. Fiction. I love when a book I read inspires me to learn more about real past events and people, and this one did just that!
Love Triangle Factor: N/A
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone
About the author
Laura Marx Fitzgerald is a longtime copywriter. In writing Under the Egg, she drew on her study of art history at Harvard and Cambridge Universities. Her non-fiction gift book, If at First: How Great People Turned Setbacks Into Great Success, was published by Andrews McMeel in 2004. This is her middle grade debut.
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