Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a middle grade fantasy from Trenton Lee Stewart. THE SECRET KEEPERS is an adventure that keeps on going, set in a world under the control of a madman and unraveled by one ingenious 11 year old.
About the book:
Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner Trenton Lee Stewart returns with a captivating, heart-stopping adventure about thrilling secrets and dangerous mysteries–and the courage to reveal the most frightening of truths.
Eleven-year-old Reuben spends his days exploring, hiding, and practicing parkour among the abandoned buildings of the Lower Downs as a way to escape the rough times that have befallen him and his mom–but his discovery of an extraordinary antique pocket watch changes everything. When Reuben finds that the watch has the power to turn him invisible, he’s propelled on the adventure of a lifetime.
Now Reuben is being pursued by a group of dangerous men called the Directions, and someone–or something–ominously called The Smoke. They all want the watch, and with the help of new friends, it’s up to Reuben to unravel the mysteries surrounding it and protect the city from evil.
New York Times bestselling author Trenton Lee Stewart’s latest novel will enthrall old and new fans alike with the twists and turns of an inventive and compelling adventure reminiscent of The Mysterious Benedict Society series.
3.5 stars for this winding Middle Grade adventure.
Reuben is an 11 y/o boy whose mother works two jobs to support them in the tenements of the Lower Downs, a run-down district of New Umbra. It’s summer and shy Reuben spends his long days exploring all around his neighborhood, and avoiding the Directions, collections of four men–who always look out in one of the four directions–who shake down the local merchants for pay-offs on a weekly basis. They work for the dodgy man known as the Counselor, who reports directly to The Smoke–a man no one can attest to ever seeing, but who nevertheless pretty much runs New Umbra, mafioso-style.
One day while exploring, Reuben discovers a mysterious watch hidden in an alley–and he believes that he could sell this antique watch and make enough money to support his mother for years to come. Only, all the watchmakers seem to want to buy it for very little money. One, Mrs. Genevieve, is horrified about the watch when Reuben comes acalling. All watchmakers have been warned to immediately call the Counselor if this watch turns up. This sets Reuben to working on the watch, and discovering it’s dangerous secret: it can render the bearer invisible for short lengths of time. It seems ripe for profit, but the Directions are turning neighborhoods in the Lower Downs inside out looking for Reuben and his fantastic watch.
So, Reuben not only can’t profit from his find, he knows that he’s in terrible danger from The Smoke, so he must discover the mystery behind the watch in order to return it to the rightful owner. Therein begins a bit of subterfuge, and a long trip, and the end of a hundred years quest for the Meyer family, sworn defenders of the watch. It allows Reuben to make friends for the first time, as Jack and Penny Meyer vow to help Reuben free himself for the scrutiny of The Smoke.
This is an interesting read. It’s also a very long read. I felt as if the tension wasn’t very high for nearly the first 150 pages, and while all those winding paths were eventually reunited into a robust trail at the end, it wasn’t very satisfying. All those long-winded descriptions had nip-and-tuck resolutions, and I found the pacing to be a challenge to my interest. I liked the mysteries, and I liked the camaraderie that eventually developed, but I truly would have enjoyed the book far better had it been at least a third shorter.
I’m not going to reveal more plot. It’s convoluted and yet interesting. I liked the idea of the story more than I liked the execution, which felt rambling and verbose in many patches. I almost despaired that the book would not have a solid resolution, that we’d be dragged into a sequel, but that wasn’t the case, and for that I was absolutely grateful. It’s not a bad book. It’s just slow, and all the action is understated. I think kids who really like adventure and mystery stories will enjoy this book.
About the Author:
Trenton Lee Stewart is the author of the award-winning, bestselling Mysterious Benedict Society series for young readers; The Secret Keepers, also for young readers; and the adult novel Flood Summer. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!