Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.
I had a hard time choosing a book this month–there were a few that really got to me. My second choice was TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown. It’s a story about a girl surviving a tornado and the destruction her life becomes in the aftermath. You can find my review here.
This month I chose THE ART OF SECRETS, a newly released YA mystery for two reasons. It’s set in my hometown–Chicago, and it tricked me! I lite really had to wait for the last three pages to learn who were the culprits. I had the great pleasure to meet the author, James Klise, at a local book signing and picked up an autographed dead-tree edition of this book. I’m so glad because I plan to pass it around faster than swine flu…
I’m not shy of my uber-love of mysteries. Confession time, my dad grounded me in third grade because I spent too much time reading Nancy Drew mysteries and too little time doing my schoolwork. #TrueStory So, this multi-POV, multicultural whodunit was a real treat for me.
About the book:
A Fire Destroys . . .
A Treasure Appears . . .
A Crime Unfolds . . .
When Saba Khan’s apartment burns in a mysterious fire, possibly a hate crime, her Chicago high school rallies around her. Her family moves rent-free into a luxury apartment, Saba’s Facebook page explodes, and she starts (secretly) dating a popular boy.
Then a quirky piece of art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be an unknown work by a famous artist, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Saba’s life turns upside down again. Should Saba’s family have all that money? Or should it go to the students who found the art? Or to the school? And just what caused that fire?
Greed, jealousy, and suspicion create an increasingly tangled web as students and teachers alike debate who should get the money and begin to point fingers and make accusations. The true story of the fire that sets events in motion and what happens afterward gradually comes together in an innovative narrative made up of journal entries, interviews, articles, letters, text messages, and other documents.
First of all, this book has, roughly, seven narrators. As noted in the blurb, the story itself is a collection of interviews, journal entries, newspaper articles, texts and emails. It’s bedlam, in the best way.
Saba’s family is from Pakistan. She was born and raised here, but her parents are traditional. They are, perhaps, more indulgent than other immigrant families allowing Saba to dress in modest Western clothing and compete on the school tennis team as long as her body is covered. We learn through Saba’s journal that her apartment is destroyed one day while she and her family are out at one of her tennis matches.
Her father reveals that he fears the fire was set by Saba’s 6 y/o brother, who has recently discovered matches. In the meantime, Saba’s high school community, most of which are affluent families, pitch in to stage an auction fundraiser headed up by Kendra and Kevin Spoon–two newcomers to the school. In fact, it is Kevin who discovers an undiscovered work of art from an “outsider” Chicago artist which he donates to the cause. The appraised value is $500,000, and Saba’s family is overwhelmed with the possible windfall.
In fact, people start to question if Saba’s family should benefit from this tragedy. Especially as the cause of the fire is suspicious. The high school principal, Dr. Stickman, thinks the money should go to the school which is in need of repairs.
The whole argument becomes moot, however, when the artwork goes missing two weeks before the auction. Then it’s a foot race to find the art. Teachers turn on teachers, accusing one another of theft. Was it Mr. Delacroix, the gay art teacher who needs capital to finance his fiber art projects? Or, Coach P, the retiring basketball/tennis coach who had easy access to the art as it was locked in her office? Students start accosting other students. Saba’s distraught that her family’s fortunes keep plummeting. Dr. Stickman was my choice for the thief, but, in the end I was completely, artfully, misdirected.
All I’m gonna say is: Best. Grift. Ever.
I wasn’t sure I’d like the story–I usually go for first-person traditional narratives in my YA. This is the exact opposite. There is (virtually) no romance. Surprisingly, the emotions shine through these third-person accounts. Humor is wry and abundant, with irreverent speech from Saba, incongruent speech from a Spanish exchange student (“in the kitchen, not the chicken” *snorts*) and the contrast between the humble laborer life of Saba’s father and the privileged pomposity of Dr. Stickman.
The story clips along, with devious reveals and backhanded breadcrumbs. I love being led on a merry chase, and enjoyed each moment of red herrings–once I finally saw them for what they were. Bravo.
About the Author:
James Klise lives in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals like StoryQuarterly, New Orleans Review, Ascent, Sou’wester and Southern Humanities Review. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Booklist, the Readerville Journal and elsewhere.
By day, he works as a high school librarian in Chicago, where he also advises a teen book group, writing club, and the Gay-Straight Alliance.
Thanks for popping in. Please also take the hop on over to my fellow bloggers to find out which books they liked this month!