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In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world's most important scientists, are taken from their lives and their parents by the mysterious men in black. They take twelve-year-old Jasper and six-year-old Lucy Modest from London, England; nine-year-old Wallace Banneker from New York; twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas from Toronto, Canada; and thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta from New Delhi, India, depositing them all at a strange, isolated farmhouse in Dayton, Ohio, with kindly ...
In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world's most important scientists, are taken from their lives and their parents by the mysterious men in black. They take twelve-year-old Jasper and six-year-old Lucy Modest from London, England; nine-year-old Wallace Banneker from New York; twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas from Toronto, Canada; and thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta from New Delhi, India, depositing them all at a strange, isolated farmhouse in Dayton, Ohio, with kindly schoolteacher Miss Brett. But what mysterious invention have all the children, unbeknownst to one another, been working on? Who are the men in black, and are they trying to kidnap them—or protect them? And if they're trying to protect them—from what? An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets, the first book of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy, is a novel readers will forever treasure.
There were two things the scientist knew for certain. One, he had only seconds to change the world. And, two, if he took too long, all his efforts might be for nothing.
As beads of sweat on his forehead threatened to rain into his eyes, he thought to himself, Not now. With only a handful of moments to achieve the correct ratio, he could ill afford the time or movement to wipe away the perspiration.
His hand twitched ever so slightly, his fingers motionless, as he clutched the burette. Trying not to blink, he hooked his elbow on the edge of the table and leaned in to brace himself. The corner of the table cut into his arm, but he had no choice. He had to prevent his hand from shaking any way he could—his right hand, anyway. His left, holding the beaker, continued a slow, circular spin, to be sure that the resin, when released, would not settle at the bottom, and that the other liquid remained in constant motion. With so much resting on an action so small, he could not make even the tiniest of mistakes.
The scientist took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This eased the fog beginning to cloud his glasses. One droplet—one golden droplet from the burette's long, slender glass tube—was all he needed. The golden resin in the burette had to be released into the rotating beaker and captured in the clear, viscous liquid. Any more than one droplet, even a fraction more, and, after months and months of computations, he would have to begin everything all over again. That is, if he survived the catastrophe.
His thumb ever so gently touched the rubber bulb at the end of the burette. This light pressure pushed the resin down the glass tube, a small golden bulge appearing at the bottom.
The sound of a creaking door suddenly filled the silent room. His breath caught in his throat. Careful. Concentrate. One droplet.
The scientist could hear the footsteps moving closer—long, slow, deliberate strides, stepping over the threshold and down the aisle behind him. Even as his heart pounded against his chest, he kept his breath intensely slow. Though he tried to ignore it, he could feel the warmth of the hand even before it came to rest on his shoulder.
His breath caught.
His elbow slipped.
The droplet released and fell, inert, to the ground.
"Is this how you clean the blackboard, Wallace?" Miss Brett asked.
"I ..." But Wallace bit his lip. He looked at the ground where the tiny droplet had soaked into the wooden floor of the classroom. The resin had left a shimmering residue Wallace knew could never be removed. Already, the chemical structure of that spot was different from the rest of the wood surrounding it. The stain would be there, forever, hard as stone and smooth as glass. Wallace could visualize the equation in his head. He was, after all, a scientist, and the fact that he was two days shy of ten years old did not mean he was anything less. He was a scientist, as surely as his father was—and as his mother had been—and all who had come before them. This experiment was as important as anything on which any of them had ever worked.
Not that Wallace had ever known much about their work. All he knew was that his mother believed in him. She told him she firmly felt that one day, perhaps that very day, Wallace would do something that would change the world. She knew it, and she made him believe it, too.
In any case, the fact that this polymer—this molecular compound, this chemical concoction-could change the world was clearly not going to get Wallace out of blackboard duty.
"It's lunchtime," said Miss Brett, "and I know you must be hungry. Everyone else is outside finishing sandwiches and taking exercise."
Wallace's small brown nose was simply not big enough to hold his large glasses in place. He pushed the stems up against his sweaty round cheeks and looked out the window, where his four classmates sat under an oak tree in the middle of the schoolyard. They looked like any ordinary group of school children, taking a break from study while innocently basking in the afternoon sun. That had been the plan, after all—to appear innocent. It had been the plan to look, for all the world, as if they had not a care, not a worry, no concern other than who would get to hold the jump rope or who got the last cream cheese and jelly sandwich.
However, these children were neither ordinary schoolmates, nor, unbeknownst to Miss Brett, were they simply having a picnic. Wallace caught sight of each of his colleagues as they played by the tree.
Faye, the oldest at thirteen, was tall and slender as a gazelle but, Wallace considered, infinitely more like a python in temperament.
Noah looked gawky and gangly, even comical, with his wisps of reddish-blonde hair waving like wheat in the wind, but Wallace had seen that twelve-year-old boy work feats of engineering magic (not to mention what he could do on a violin, to which Wallace had listened in secret).
Jasper, who was the same age as Noah, was always at attention, keeping guard over little Lucy.
Lucy, who was all of six years old, might have been the most brilliant of them all.
Yes, they all looked like children enjoying the day. But they were not ordinary children. Nor, Wallace sensed in the pit of his stomach, were they innocent.
* * *
"Well, young man?" Miss Brett said.
Wallace's pleading face softened Miss Brett's features. Not so much skinny, but small and a bit frail for his age, Wallace seemed even younger than his nearly ten years. Miss Brett's heart so obviously ached for him. She saw a sad little hungry boy eager to join his friends, but she didn't know the real reason why.
Wallace did not like deceiving Miss Brett. Miss Brett was very kind. Over the weeks that he and the other children had been together and in her care, she had conducted her classes with foresight and imagination.
And to Wallace, she gave something he had not had in many years. She gave him something that would remain secret even from his classmates—something he shared only with her. This made the deception all the more painful.
It was one thing to not explain the nature of their work to their teacher—how could she understand it anyway? But to keep such a secret, and plan such an escape behind her back, was another thing entirely.
In fact, they all longed to tell her. They wanted Miss Brett to know all about their brilliant creation. But the dangers were too great right now. For her. For them. For it.
Wallace reached into the pocket of his trousers. The pocket, he knew, was empty. Not generally prone to fancy, Wallace wished he still had his lucky coin. The thought of his empty pocket reminded him of a bigger emptiness. He hoped his father had not lost the coin. And he hoped his father himself was not lost.
In his other pocket, Wallace felt his magnifying glass. He corked the vial and slipped it into the same pocket, leaving his other empty, awaiting the return of the coin. He took the burette and placed it, along with the clear liquid, into a basket that hung outside the window, on the ledge. Miss Brett wanted to keep poisons outside the classroom whenever possible.
Miss Brett pulled back her sleeves and picked up the bucket of wet rags that sat, as yet untouched, near the blackboard.
"Come on. I'll help you."
Wallace bent to dip the rag in the bucket again. Right now, the main objective was finishing this chore and getting out of the classroom. He looked out the window as he rose to face the blackboard. They would be coming, maybe any minute, and he would be too late.
"Come on, Wallace," Miss Brett urged gently. "I'd like to get started on the gardening shed. I want to clean it out before dark."
Wallace knew his brown face had suddenly turned pale. Miss Brett wanted to clean out the gardening shed. Wallace already knew this and tried not to panic as she reminded him.
He looked over by the road at the edge of the field. He could see the back of the truck. It was still there. There was still a chance.
A VIEW FROM THE SCHOOLYARD
"He's cleaning the ruddy blackboard," groaned Faye.
They were facing life and death and Wallace was cleaning the blackboard.
"Cleaning the blackboard?" Jasper asked, his voice cracking as he tried to remain calm. "At least Miss Brett is helping him," Noah said, trying to find the bright side. "As long as she's in there with Wallace, she can't be cleaning the shed."
All things considered, Noah could not help but see the irony in their predicament. They needed to get to the shed before Miss Brett, and they needed Wallace to be done with his chore. However, Wallace being done with his chore meant that Miss Brett would be headed for the gardening shed.
Faye harrumphed. "We shouldn't have agreed to let him finish his useless—"
"It is not useless," Jasper declared firmly. "It's a brilliant piece of chemistry and ..." Jasper gulped down the words he wanted to say but couldn't. "It couldn't wait."
"You've been saying that, Jasper," Faye said, stepping closer to him, "but you haven't explained. Why can't it wait? Why is it so—"
"What's going to happen?" Lucy asked, interrupting Faye and slipping her hand into Jasper's.
This was the question. As scientists, Jasper, Lucy, Faye, Noah, and Wallace knew more than most people about a lot of things. They knew more than most about the power and the magic of science. As scientists, they knew the power they held in their hands.
But as for what was going to happen, they hadn't a clue. So much of their lives here remained a terrible mystery. But Jasper knew two things the others didn't. First, he knew that this experiment, in fact, did have something to do with an upcoming event. And, second, he knew that Wallace had no choice but to finish this experiment. And if that meant forgoing the plan, Jasper knew in his heart that Wallace would not have a quick decision on his hands.
So little made sense right now. For one thing, it had been over two months with no real word from their parents. Without warning or explanation, the worlds of the young scientists had been turned on their sides. Their parents had simply disappeared. A dark shadow loomed over them all. There had to be a way to find their parents and to help them escape from their captors.
Now, the children had formed, and meticulously laid out, a plan to free their parents, themselves, and Miss Brett from the clutches of—and there were really no better words to describe them—the men in black. In truth, this was not their first plan. Or second. Or ninth. The five young scientists had been working on escape plans since their first days at Sole Manner Farm. But over these last few weeks, while they worked on their most brilliant invention, the children had all agreed, and hoped desperately, that this was the best plan yet. It was, without a doubt, the only plan they had left.
And there was Wallace, stuck in the classroom.
Faye shook her head. "He shouldn't have risked it."
"This is his life's work, Faye. He's been working on that polymer for ... well, years," Jasper said. "He had to do it now, or ... it would have been for nothing."
"Whatever use it may be in the future," Faye said, "it's of no use to us now. We can't use it to save our parents. It isn't going to magically answer all our problems. Is it going to save the world? I don't even care. I'm too busy trying to save our parents, or have you forgotten? If it wasn't for Wallace's—"
"Don't," Jasper warned.
Although Faye might have disagreed, each child had been vital to the creation of this plan and to the invention at the heart of it. So much was riding on everything they did.
Back in the days before the men in black, when the children saw invention as nothing more than pleasure, in the days when the young scientists' minds were not shadowed by fear and the presence of mysterious strangers, back in their own homes, their own countries, their own worlds, they each had worked hard on various inventions. Now, they could see how all these inventions fit together—they were parts of the same, much larger and more important invention. Before they were all brought here, to Sole Manner Farm, there was already something uniting them. Each child had provided a piece of the puzzle—except Wallace.
But they had been brought to the farm against their will. Even though they were glad to be together, they had been ripped from their lives, and from their parents. This was their mutual condition. This was their bond.
Now, it might well be true that the children had never actually suffered torture, torment, or bodily harm. And there was an obvious effort, on the part of invisible hands, to make them comfortable in their captivity. But harm was felt in a different way.
They were haunted by the sinister men in black, and they hadn't the faintest idea what was going on around them. And they did indeed feel like captives, or castaways, trapped on an island of sorts. The farm was totally isolated, there in the fields outside Dayton, Ohio, in the middle of America. And the fields, like the sea, held them apart from civilization.
"There's just no way Wallace completed his polymer," said Faye, wiping the crumbs from the handkerchief she had used as her personal tablecloth for lunch. She climbed up, joining Jasper on the rock at the base of the old oak tree, and peered in the direction of the schoolhouse. The tree was huge, with broad, spreading branches that were great for climbing and shade. It had knotty, lumpy roots that served as steps, seats, or just something to lean on. This was the tree under which Miss Brett read, and under which the children played or sat or lay in the grass.
"He would have needed twenty-seven seconds more," said Lucy, peering through the small spyglass she had made from the hollow wooden dowel she had found in a closet in the farmhouse, and the two glass discs she had found under the classroom microscope.
Faye held her hand out expectantly and muttered, "What a waste of time."
Lucy handed the spyglass over.
"I wish he had cleaned the blackboard first, then finished the experiment," Jasper said, almost to himself, trying to sweep a lock of darkish blonde hair from his eyes. "We all know Miss Brett would have let him finish if he'd done what she'd asked."
"But then she'd probably be following him right now with a bucket and a broom, ready to sweep out everything we've hidden in the gardening shed," Faye said. "And then where would we be?"
Jasper drank the last of his milk and wiped his cup before placing it back in the hamper. He took Lucy's handkerchief, shook out the crumbs, and collected the napkins from the rest of the group, placing them in the hamper as well. Jasper handed out small apples to his schoolmates. He put two back in the hamper. He realized he might not get a chance to give one to Miss Brett.
"It's his own fault he didn't do it earlier," said Faye. "It's going to be all his fault. If he couldn't be part of this invention, then the least he could do is not prevent us from—"
"Don't blame Wallace," Jasper said, facing Faye. "He's doing his best, and it had to be done now, or it would have been ... well, he couldn't. The world needs that polymer as much as Wallace needs to finish it."
"One of you will still have to distract Miss Brett and keep her from the gardening shed." Faye felt a twinge of remorse she did not want the others to see. This was a time to be strong—a time to get out while they could.
"One of us?" Jasper tried to keep his voice from breaking.
"It certainly can't be me," Faye said, as if this were a matter of fact. "I've got to make sure I get on the truck. As if we don't all know I'm the most important. Not that you others aren't needed. But let's be honest."
When he first met Faye, Jasper was so nonplussed, so overwhelmed by her exotic and stunning beauty that he blushed whenever he looked at her. Her voice, with its delicate hint of India, had distracted him from hearing what she said. As the days passed and turned into weeks, then months, her brash rudeness and thoughtless outbursts stunned him the most. He opened his mouth, but Noah beat him to it.
Excerpted from The Atomic Weight of Secrets OR THE ARRIVAL OF THE MYSTERIOUS MEN IN BLACK by Eden Unger Bowditch Copyright © 2011 by Eden Unger Bowditch. Excerpted by permission of The Bancroft Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 20, 2014
Long Live the Smart Kids!
Did I enjoy this book: It’s delightful!
The Atomic Weight of Secrets is a yummy treat: it has all the best flavors from series like A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia with just the right amount of uniqueness.
Bowditch’s writing is light and lovely, and her characterization is spot-on. It shouldn’t be praiseworthy, but I’ll admit I was enamored from the beginning simply because it’s clear Bowditch spent some quality time with a grammar text. And, well, I’ll further admit that it’s quite refreshing to read a book wherein the heroes use their intellect (rather than magic) to solve problems.
I loved it. Long Live the Smart Kids!
Would I recommend it: Yep. Read it. NOW. And you know what? I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to go ahead and recommend you pick up the second book in the series (The Ravens of Solemano) while you’re at it.
As reviewed by Melissa at Every Free Chance Book Reviews.
Posted January 6, 2014
I read the second of Eden Unger Bowditches Young Inventor’s Guild books recently, and I was hooked. So I immediately ordered a copy of book one.
The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black does not disappoint. Steampunk, set in an era of discovery, when railways are new, mills belch smoke, and clockwork fuels intrigue, it brings together five youngsters, with a flavor of Harry Potter or Narnia’s children, steals them from their parents, and sets them up in strange new homes, with a strange new boarding school and kindly schoolmistress. The flavors of freshbaked biscuits fill the air. The chatter of children vies with the cries of crows. And something mysterious is keeping their parents away.
Have the parents been nefariously kidnapped, are they working for the government (but which government—this novel is nicely global in scope), or have the mysterious men in black simply hired their services? Whatever the reason, these men in black are delightfully strange, childish in their odd habits and costumes, haunting with their infrequent words which frequently sound more like riddles, yet oddly powerful. Meanwhile the children, all scientifically inclined, try to plan for escape, and learn to become friends.
Secrets unite them. Secrets separate. And some secrets might even be weighty enough to change the world. There’s an appealing satisfaction to secrets recognized, mystery to those yet unresolved, and fun in the reciting of curious rhymes. There’s joy too in the old-fashioned feel of dual titles—a technique the author applies to her chapters as well. And there’s a a fun duality to wise children who need parents, clever inventions which need time to mature, and powerful strangers who seem so very helpless. Ah, what a strange weight all these secrets bear, and I’m longing to know more of the Men in Black, more of their curious duality, and more of the importance of these children’s inventiveness.
A children’s novel that blends young and old, new ways and ancient, new ideas and time-tested truths, and science and mystery—Eden Unger Bowditch’s Young Inventors Guild series combines the fresh new feel J. K. Rowling brought to children’s literature with the old-world comforts of C.S. Lewis, and creates something truly different, modern and enticing—highly recommended.
Disclosure: I couldn’t resist buying book one after I’d read book two. Now I’m eagerly awaiting book three.
Posted August 18, 2011
Each character is presented well as the story progresses. I liked watching the bonding of the kids as they worked together and puzzled over their predicament.
Meanwhile their genius brains come together to create and invent.
For Alice in Wonderland fans like me, there are mentions and references that blend in well and just tickle.
Posted May 5, 2011
Science, invention, and mystery come together in this wonderful book by Eden Bowditch. Five children (Jasper, Lucy, Wallace, Noah, and Faye) find themselves in school together, away from their families and friends. Each has a scientific gift, and at first, none of them realized that each is part of an overall puzzle. As they work on their individual experiments, they worry about their families and what has happened to them. The children find enjoyment in each other and in their experiments, but they want to go home but they are watched constantly. The "Men in Black" are interesting characters who are keeping the children against their will. Why are they being held away from their families? Will any of these talented young people escape the Men in Black and return to their homes and families? How long will it take for them to figure out that they are more powerful both as a team and in their inventions?
This novel wonderfully combines the love of science and math with youth and teamwork. It is geared for children and young adults, but everyone will enjoy the fun and intrigue this book brings. I highly recommend it for family libraries as it is a book that lends itself to being shared during family time. I will be buying copies for my grandchildren. Thank you to Net Gallery and Bancroft Press for the opportunity of getting a preview copy for my Nook!I can't wait for the next book in the series.
Posted April 11, 2011
The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black was an original tale with well-developed, sharp characters. Lucy, Jasper, Wallace, Noah and Faye were left alone without warning and without any explanation. It was good to encounter clever characters that were far from average children. They stood out, knew that they were different and accepted it.
Written well with attention to detail, the story unfolded slowly. For once, I liked how the author took her time. I am used to fast-paced novels and I crave the usual urgency and intensity of a story. But the slow pace of this novel proved to be good. That way, I was able to soak the story in, to pay more attention to the details. Although sometimes I found the story dragging, I was highly interested in reading about the family life and school life of each character. I got to know them really well. I sympathized and felt for them. Being the kids of scientifically focused parents was far from easy. They craved more time with their parents, attention and most of all, love. Each one of them had their own issues to deal with at home and at school. Being young and brilliant had a price.
The mysterious men in black were truly very mysterious. They wore a range of black clothes - from simple to weird to bizarre. They spoke from one-syllable answers to a confusing jumble of words and sometimes, they didn't talk at all. They baffled me a lot. It was fun reading about them but the anonymity, the absence of knowledge about their identities drove me mad, hungry for answers. Part of the reason why I kept reading on, aside from enjoying reading about the inventors, was that I wanted to know who they were, if they were part of some kind of scientific society or a group who wanted to abuse scientists and take over the world.
Each one of the main characters has a contribution to the brilliant invention. It was pure genius. While they were working on this and staying at Sole Manner Farm with the lovely Miss Brett, they discussed endlessly about their situation, their parents' situation and their escape plans. They were worried about their parents and they wanted to try to escape so they could get to them, or if the mysterious men in black were holding them against their will, try to save them no matter how impossible and difficult that was. Their dedication to their work and to their parents was strong. I liked how they wanted to explore the possibilities, work as a team and try to turn these possibilities into reality.
The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black is a unique, fun and imaginative debut with outstanding characters. This is perfect for patient readers and readers who love adventures and historical/science novels.