“This was one of those places in which you don’t want to make any embarrassing sounds. Forget sneezes and coughs – even the smallest, was-that-breakfast-or-lunch belch, or the softest, nobody-will-know-it’s-me fart, could be heard on the other side of the room.”
The Name of This Book Is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch and illustrated by Gilbert Ford, 2007
I’m not generally a fan of breaking the fourth wall, but Bosch makes that work in this fun little book. It’s a good thing, too, because you’re never really sure if he (or she) is telling you a story – or telling you about a story. Because he (I’m going to go with he, simply because it saves keystrokes in the long run) sticks to it so thoroughly through this adventure, it works.
I imagine the breaking-the-fourth-wall mechanism in this book is a bit more fun for kids (say, under 14) than it is for adults. Bosch does it almost conspiratorially, as if he’s letting you in on some deep, dark secret, and it is a lot of fun.
The main character in the story is Cassandra (Cass), a quirky and misunderstood girl of indeterminate age – I put her between 10 and 12. Her sidekick is Max-Ernest, a little boy her age who is mixed up and unusual due to the fact that his parents are seriously messed up. They’ve poured all their failures into him, and it shows. Think Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, only less arrogant (a LOT less arrogant).
They’re reluctant friends at first – collaborators is all they’re willing to concede. By the end, they’ve saved each others’ lives and rescued somebody and defeated the villains. I think at that point, it’s safe to call them friends.
Cass has adults in her life that matter to her; her mother, of course; a pair of grandfathers called Larry and Wayne, neither of which is actually her grandfather and I’m assuming they’re gay simply by how they interact with each other, although Bosch never comes right out and says it; and Mrs. Johnson, her school principal, who is a solid – if disbelieving – guide in Cass’ life.
The plot centers around a magician who has disappeared and some special items from his house that find their way into Cassandra’s hands …er, backpack. It’s a clean, rollicking story without a lot of excess. Up until the final third of the book, everything clicks neatly into place and there’s no sense that Bosch is setting the reader up for a sequel. That changes at the end of the book, when he introduces a deus ex machina character (Owen) and we learn more about “the Secret” and the villains, Ms. Morvais and Dr. L.
There’s no sex in this story – they’re little kids, after all – but there is some violence (peril, really) and the implied deaths of some of the villains’ cronies. It’s filled with silly asides from the author and plenty of fart jokes (which I totally appreciated). As you can expect with a book aimed at under-14s, everything wraps up pretty nicely at the end, and it’s a fun, satisfying read. One of the best youth mysteries I’ve read since Encyclopedia Brown, and it’s nice to see that the main character and problem-solver is a girl.
My daughter (who is now 12) gave me this to read; in return, I gave her Fahrenheit 451.