Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Here's a fun mystery in the tradition of Nancy Drew, except that these four twelve-year-old detectives are much more hip. All are students at St. Veronica's on Manhattan's Upper East Side: Sophie St. Pierre is the book-lover and writer, Margaret Wrobel is the brilliant one, Rebecca Chen has artistic talent, and newcomer Leigh Ann Jaimes excels at acting. Wearing their St. Veronica's crimson blazers, the friends get drawn into an intriguing puzzle to help an eccentric lady who lives next door to their school and church. Clues (which the girls decipher by using math and language skills) lead them into a treasure hunt through the church (sometimes at night), dangerous escapades, and some narrow escapes. If those are not enough to occupy them, they have to keep up with their schoolwork, act in a scene from Great Expectations, elude suspicious characters, and fret about boys. Sophie (whose parents are a French chef and a violin teacher) is the first-person narrator with a lively voice and a sense of drama. She assures us that St. V's is "just a nice, ordinary, all-girl's school that just happens to be in a in a pretty expensive neighborhood," but these detectives are sophisticated, funny, endearing twelve-year-olds that you will not find just anywhere. Using their talents, with help from sympathetic English teacher, Mr. Eliot, and a very young Father Julian, the four friends outwit a conniving enemy and provide an entertaining read along the way. As Sophie remarks, "All quite normal. Right?" Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Melodramatic Sophia St. Pierre, über-brainy Margaret Wrobel, and wisecracking Rebecca Chen are seventh graders at a Manhattan Catholic school. While sitting in her English class, Sophie spies someone in a window of the church next door, and she seems to be asking for help. The woman turns out to be a wealthy, elderly hippie who is trying to solve a 20-year-old puzzle. From that moment, these friends are embroiled in a mystery to find an ancient artifact, return it to its proper owner, and bring the villain to justice. The bright main characters have distinctive voices and unique personalities. Sophie is a witty narrator, whose asides, while sometimes distracting, are often as amusing as the long chapter titles. Along with sleuthing in the church, the girls are dealing with family and friend issues and first loves and preparing a Dickensian school skit. They get caught up in the engaging mystery, temporarily fall prey to misconceptions/misunderstandings, and proudly work out the teasing clues to find the treasure. This is a PG Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003) clearly authored by a teacher (plenty of literary name-dropping) with a neat ending that is not immediately predictable. It's a clever way to combine some middle school math (graphs and grids included) with a fun mystery, great friends, and a bit of romance.-Danielle Serra, Cliffside Park Public Library, NJ
Clad in their red high-school blazers, three friends become amateur sleuths who decipher an intricate puzzle leading to the priceless Ring of Rocamadour. Dramatic Sophie, brainy Margaret and artistic Rebecca attend the upper school at St. Veronica's all-girls' school in Manhattan, where they encounter the elderly, eccentric Ms. Harriman who lives next door. Ms. Harriman enlists the sympathetic trio to solve an elaborate puzzle her archaeologist father created 20 years ago. As the girls discover, the clues refer to objects or places in St. Veronica's and challenge their knowledge of religion, classical languages, math, literature, philosophy and art. For each clue solved, another is provided. As the girls get closer to the ring, they realize they aren't alone in their quest. Sophie's chatty, melodramatic first-person, present-tense narration provides comic relief to the pseudo-gothic tone, inviting readers to crack the clues while the girls use their wits and spunk to pinpoint the ring's location. Three plucky, clever heroines and one very intriguing puzzle equal lighthearted adventure with a modern twist. Move over, Nancy Drew! (diagrams) (Mystery. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, January 1 & 15th, 2009:
“A familiar heroine—the girl detective—gets a fresh look (red blazer!) in this delightful debut.”
Read an Excerpt
For as far back as I can remember, I have told everyone I know that I am going to be a writer. And it's not just some idle dream. I have been a busy girl, and my hard drive is bulging with the results of this ambition: a heaping assortment of almost-but-not-quite-finished short stories and at least three this-time-I'm-really-off-to-a-great-start-and-I-mean-it novels. Unfortunately, every single thing I have written--until now, that is--is fatally flawed. "Write what you know!" everyone told stubborn little me. Very good advice--that I completely ignored. Instead, I wrote and wrote, filling my stories to the brim with people and places I have spent my life reading about instead of the people and places that are my life. But all that changed the moment I looked out the window in Mr. Eliot's English class and screamed. Suddenly I had my very own story.
My tale begins in September, my first month in the "upper school" at St. Veronica's, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I know, I know--it sounds snobby, like one of those schools in the movies or TV, but trust me, it's not. Believe me, I'm not rich, and my friends aren't either. St. V's is just a nice, ordinary all-girls' school that just happens to be in a pretty expensive neighborhood. Yes, we wear plaid skirts with our lovely red blazers, and yes, there are a few nuns running around the place, but there are no limos parked outside or helicopters on the roof or anything like that.
We are just starting Great Expectations in Mr. Eliot's English class, taking turns reading aloud from the first chapter. So Leigh Ann Jaimes is reading. Someday, Leigh Ann, a very passionate reader, will win an Academy Award. When she reads, it's like one of those fabulous, a-star-is-born auditions for a Broadway play. Great Expectations, the "greatest novel ever written" per our Mr. Eliot, starts off with this spooky scene: as a cold early-evening fog hangs over a churchyard cemetery, the poor little orphan Pip is wandering near his parents' headstone. As Leigh Ann pours her heart into every word, I'm picturing the mist hanging over the graves, worn smooth by the passage of time. I feel the chilly, clammy air, hear the trees creaking and swaying in the wind, andso there I am, perched on the edge of my seat, when Leigh Ann reads: "'Hold your noise!' cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. 'Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!'"
I gasp. Loudly.
Leigh Ann, along with everyone else in the room, spins around to look at me.
"Everything all right, Miss St. Pierre?" Mr. Eliot asks, peering over his glasses and trying to hold back a smile. Mr. Eliot is one of those teachers who is basically cool, but still a total geek--always making really corny jokes that only he gets. His first name is George, which explains a lot. Get it? George Eliot, like the novelist? Except that that George Eliot was really a woman named Mary Ann Evans. Oy.
I blush--just a little. "I'm fine. Thanks for asking though." Always keep 'em guessing--that's what I say.
He nods to Leigh Ann to continue.
Across the room, my best friend Margaret Wrobel has this huge smile on her face. She mouths the words "deep breaths" at me, which is what she always tells me when I get too excited, or too scared, or too anxious, or too anything. I'm a very emotional person--Ijust don't seem to have that "whatever" gene. Everything matters in my world.
Margaret reads next, and her version of Charles Dickens is flavored with a soupcon of a Polish accent, a remnant of the first seven years of her life in the suburbs of Warsaw. My eyes drift off for a moment, turning to the stained glass windows and the gray stone walls of St. Veronica's Church, separated from the school by a courtyard that is maybe twenty or thirty feet wide.
And then I scream. And this time, I am at least as startled as everyone else in the room, with the possible exception of poor Mr. Eliot.
"Sophie! For crying out loud. I know it's an exciting book, but please try to control yourself."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Eliot, but I saw--" I point out the window at the church, but the thing that had been so scream-worthy is gone.
"Nothing. I thought I saw something, but it must have just been a pigeon."
"My gosh. What was this pigeon doing?"
The bell rings (yay!) and I gather my books quietly and glance furtively out the window, hoping to get a second look at what I had seen for just the briefest flash.
Margaret and I walk to the locker we share.
"So, what was that all about?" she demands, after we get away from the crowd outside the room.
"I saw something," I whisper.
"Something like . . . dead people?" Margaret whispers back.
Rebecca Chen sticks her head in between Margaret and me. "What's going on? Why are we whispering?"
"Sophie says she saw something scary out the window during English class. She actually screamed."
Rebecca's interest level increases immediately. "You screamed? In class? Cool."
"I saw a face in the window. That little round one in the church. C'mon, I'll show you."
We return to the now-empty Room 503 and re-create the scene.
"I was sitting right here, and for just a split second, I saw it, plain as day. A woman's face, really pale, almost white, with long white hair."
"You dozed off," says Rebecca. "It was a dream."
"No, I was wide awake. You know how sometimes you're sitting there with the remote, and you're flipping through the channels as fast as you can, but every once in a while you see something--something you recognize, like a cute guy, or a scene from your favorite episode of Seinfeld or whatever--and even though you only saw it for like a split second, you still take it in? Well, that's what it was like."
"Sophie, we're on the fifth floor," Margaret says. "That means we're forty feet up. That window is above us--it's probably just an attic or something. Sorry, but it's pretty unlikely that there was an old lady at that window."
"Unless it was a ghost!" Rebecca is getting more excited by the minute. "Or someone trapped! Or being held in a secret room, like in The Man in the Iron Mask!"
Margaret, the smartest person I know, can't resist an opportunity for a good literary allusion. "Or maybe she's in the church seeking sanctuary, like Quasimodo. You know, The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
A couple of years ago, Margaret's dad salvaged a complete set of the Harvard Classics that some moron in their building had put out with the trash. Margaret has made it one of her missions in life to read all seventy volumes. "Guys, I'm serious. I know you don't believe me, and I don't blame you, but I swear I saw her. And, uh, the weird part is, even though I only saw her for a second, I got the strangest feeling that she was trying to say something to me."
"Like what?" Rebecca asks, eyes wide.
"Like she needed help or something." I wait for them to scoff.
From the Trade Paperback edition.