Pros: A charming, innovative, cryptic, humorous, engaging, secret, yet revealing novel for children
Cons: None.... just hoping a sequel will take place soon!
My apologies in advance if you're looking for the Secret here ~ I've sworn not to tell. Yes, I have just finished reading The Name of this Book is Secret, but my review of this thriller for curious and brave children will only hint at the details that make it positively irresistible. Otherwise, I might put myself and you, dear reader, in jeopardy.
Of course, I'm aware that book reviews on Epinions must reveal something about the book's plot, characters and style. However, out of respect for the author's dire warnings that unearthing the secret could be deadly, I'll reveal only the bare essentials. In this way, you'll still be surprised by the many twists and turns this unique adventure takes.
How I acquired The Name of this Book is Secret and the potential consequences...
I discovered this cryptically titled novel at a Scholastic Book Fair. Its cover illustration ~ a mysterious hand holding a magic hat, with the title twisted above in the shape of a question mark, and the word Secret hidden in the hat ~ enticed me to purchase it. Penned by Pseudonymous Bosh (2007), the story was perfect for my 11 year old, partly because the main characters, Cass and Max-Ernest, are also 11 years old. As you might have guessed, Pseudonymous Bosch is not the author's real name, which he chooses to keep hidden "for reasons he cannot disclose, but which should be obvious to anyone foolhardy enough to read this book."
The author's writing style is quirky and engrossing. He truly understands the meaning of a page-turner. He begins by warning "Do Not Read Beyond This Page!" Following that, he divulges that he has discovered a dangerous and deadly secret which must never be revealed, but he'll proceed with the tale cautiously, so as not to reveal the secret's most crucial details. I enjoyed his tactic ~ after all, one is usually curious about forbidden subjects.
Have there been any consequences to reading this secretly titled book? So far, no one in my family has suffered any ill effects from reading it, so I pronounce it "safe" for anyone who dares to read it. :)
If you're a parent, teacher or librarian seeking a compelling book for intermediate readers, look no further. If you're a kid seeking a page-turner with cryptograms to solve, pyramids, magic tricks, hieroglyphics and elixirs for eternal youth, check this one out!
The Main Characters
Author/Narrator ~ he bravely puts his own life (and that of his readers) in grave danger by recounting the tale of a mysterious Magician's diary and a deadly secret. The author collaborates with illustrator Gilbert Ford, who drops hints and clues in each deftly drawn chapter-heading, to apprise the reader of upcoming zigs and zags in the plot. Drawn in pen and ink (I presume), the black and white illustrations are reminiscent of old-time carnivals and mystic fortune tellers. Some of the chapter headings are entertaining enough by themselves, like the one entitled "so Alarming I've decided not to include it."
Cass ~ an eleven year old girl who lives with her Mom. Having lost her Dad at an early age, she lives in survival mode, seeing the possibility of danger and disaster nearly everywhere she goes. She has been accused of "crying wolf" numerous times, but she becomes an amateur sleuth for potential calamities, both real and imagined. Her backpack, filled with survival tools, is her constant companion. She's not an ordinary girl, in the conventional sense, and that doesn't concern her too much.
Max-Ernest ~ the son of dysfunctional divorced parents who split their house down the middle and each live in opposite halves. His gift of perpetual gab has been diagnosed and treated by numerous professionals, but it's unclear whether it's really a problem. His principal goal in life is to learn how to tell jokes properly, and as the story unfolds, it seems his chances grow stronger with every chapter.
The Magician ~ he has mysteriously died/disappeared and left behind a diary, which Cass discovers. The contents of his diary are much sought after, as they may or may not contain the key to an ages-old secret that could rock the world's very foundations.
The Bergamo Brothers ~ fraternal twins who immigrated long ago from Italy. Their unusual powers of sensory integration were the ruse behind their successful carnival act. One brother disappeared mysteriously many years ago, and the other died recently in a fire of unknown origin, leaving behind his diary and other possessions to be pondered.
Mr L. and Ms. Mauvais ~ a sinister couple who seek the magician's diary and most probably, the deadly Secret. Aptly named, they appear in various scenes and seem to wreak havoc, although no one is exactly sure why or how. Their movie star good-looks may be too good to be true... However, since I'm fearful of divulging even the slightest detail which might endanger either myself or the unwary reader of this review, I shall refrain from adding more details about this couple.
Brief plot synopsis
Cass learns of a magician's untimely death from Gloria, a real estate agent who flips houses for the recently deceased. Hidden among the dead magician's possessions that Cass discovers (at least, we assume he died in a kitchen fire) is a cryptic diary, which reveals bits and pieces about its author, one of the Bergamo Brothers. Cass and Max-Ernest band together to solve the pieces of a giant entangled puzzle ~ uncovering clues that seem unrelated at first, but lead to a Pyramid scheme (literally) which would shock any Egyptologist. Along the way, the heroes get sidetracked by a schoolyard kidnapping and find themselves in mortal danger. As a bonus, readers learn about some diverse topics like synesthesia, alchemy and Egyptology, as well as solve cryptograms while pondering the fragrance of a "Symphony of Smells."
From the first page, the author's obvious use of reverse psychology literally dragged me into the story. Everyone knows that kids are drawn to tales of secrets, danger and kids who don't quite fit in with the crowd. The author deftly employs code breaking, red herrings, tongue-in-cheek footnotes, obvious foreshadowing and other plot devices to keep the reader mesmerized (at least, I was). One of my favorite literary device was his chapter written entirely in X's (I'll let you see this one to believe it!)
Another plus ~ I found nothing offensive in the book. No potty humor, no foul language and nothing age inappropriate. Although it's technically a children's book, the dialogue and vocabulary are advanced enough to appeal to any adult. As a testimony to its compelling grip, I could hardly wait longer than 10 minutes after finishing the book to begin writing my review. Normally I'll wait days, weeks or even years to write a book review. But, upon finishing The Name of this Book is Secret, I needed to share my experience with the masses. I hope you'll forgive my hesitance to divulge the most dangerous details ~ they don't call them "spoilers" for nothing!
Highly Recommended *****
The Name of this Book is Secret
Author: Pseudonymous Bosch
Illustrator: Gilbert Ford
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers (October 1, 2007)