Theodora Tenpenny is a resourceful thirteen-year-old. She has managed to hold onto most of the $463 her grandfather (Jack) left to her and her mother when he died a few months ago. Providing for a mentally unstable parent while caring for their flock of chickens and the family’s decrepit town house in Manhattan would be challenging for an adult.
Jack’s last words still haunt Theo: “Look under the egg. There’s a letter. And a treasure, before it’s too late.” What egg? What treasure? Theo searches the house, but it is only when she accidentally spills rubbing alcohol on one of Jack’s paintings that she discovers what looks like a Raphael underneath. Where did Jack get it? Is it authentic? With the help of a new friend, Bodhi, Reverend Cecily of Grace Episcopal Church and various neighborhood characters, Theo uncovers the history of the picture, hoping to secure financial security for her mother and herself.
Readers may be disappointed in the convenient manner in which this mystery’s plot is resolved. At the same time Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s book follows a growing trend in children’s literature: single parent protagonists born out-of-wedlock. In Theo’s case, it is implied that her father seduced her mother and then left her pregnant. At the same time, the sexual exploits of Raphael are discussed throughout the book as Theo does her research. An interesting story, with potential to teach youngsters about art and art history, is spoiled by the inclusion of topics that are not appropriate for its intended audience.
Jennifer Minicus is a teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.