Middle Grade Book Review: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

undertheegg_fitzgerald_puffinbksTheodora (Theo) Tenpenny’s grandfather, a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a painter, has recently died.  This leaves Theo to care for her reclusive, eccentric mother and their ramshackle New York City home with only $463.  Her only hope of not losing her home, and ending up in foster care, lies in her Grandfather’s last words to her, that there is a letter and a treasure “under the egg.”

At the heart of Under the Egg is a mystery – is the painting Theo finds under her grandfather’s painting a genuine masterpiece? Did her curmudgeonly grandfather steal it from the Museum?  In trying to solve the mystery, Theo becomes friends with a girl who leads a very different, but similarly solitary life.  The two girls use their  combined skills and resources, learning from each other as they attempt to discover whether or not the painting is the work of a master.

I often avoid contemporary middle grade novels as the relationships between girls tend to include “mean girl” behavior.  It was nice to read about two girls from different backgrounds becoming friends and was the primary reason I was considering sharing it with MC, my 12 year old niece and occasional middle grade book review partner.  By the time I reached page 95, however, I was seriously reconsidering.

Though it is told in first person, the impression given is more of an adult looking back and telling a story.  The narrator never comes across as a twelve year old.    The descriptions of art were particularly problematic.  Having Theo describing artists as if quoting from a book, and telling the reader that the subject of a painting is sexy or that their smile is sensuous did not sit well with me and does not mesh with her age.

One of the things I did appreciate about the story, though won’t detail here as it would be a spoiler, is the little known WWII history that was included.  Part of that history, which has only recently become public knowledge, was unknown to me until this book.

While this book is well written and the mystery is fully solved, I have great reservations about recommending it for middle grade readers.  When MC read it she found that she did not understand much of what was written about art.  She only finished the book (with parental encouragement) in order to write a book report, and she thought it was good for that purpose even though she had found it boring and slow paced.

I agree with MC that this is not a book that pulls the reader in, that it is not a compelling read.  But the positive aspects as well as the skill of the writer in telling this story lead me to rate it 3/5 stars.  I simply wish it had been more appropriate to the age and more enjoyable to read as, like MC, I had to force myself to continue several times (I also wish I had waited for a library copy, instead of purchasing it after being charmed by the cover and the descriptive storytelling on the first two pages).

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald | Puffin Books, May 26th 2015 |Paperback, 256 pgs

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