Author: Elise Broach
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
# Of pages: 290
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 View Scale
Description: Marvin, a young beetle lives with his family behind the wall underneath the kitchen sink in a New York apartment. James, a young boy who feels somewhat invisible, also lives in the New York City apartment. After James receives a birthday gift of a pen and ink drawing set from his artistic father, Marvin decides he wants to draw a picture for James as a birthday present. Using the ink which James has left open, he creates a magnificent miniature using his front legs as drawing tools. This leads James’ family to think that James has an artistic gift that he really doesn’t possess. He and Marvin become friends and they find themselves embroiled in foiling an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Review: Had I realized that the protagonist in this story was a beetle, I more than likely would never have picked it up. After a rocky start with a disgusting trip down a drain to recover a lost contact lens, things improve immensely when young James becomes a key character in the story. From there, the book quickly becomes a mystery story that involves recovering a stolen painting by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dϋrer. The plan to secure the masterpiece moves quickly with many surprising twists and turns that keeps the pages turning quickly.
Positive: Both of the main characters demonstrate much caring and kindness toward each other. Family values of encouragement, love, commitment and concern are prominent among the members of the beetle family, leaving you wishing there were more of those same values demonstrated in James’ family. The consequences of lying were discussed and how it is often necessary to create more lies to cover up the lies already told.
Spiritual Elements: None
Language: There was the use of “Oh my God!” two or three times.
Sexual Content: None
Other: One situation that bothered me was the fact the James took credit for the drawings which he did not do, and never confessed the truth to his parents or anyone else (in spite of the little discussion about lying). He never came right out and said that he had drawn the pictures, but he allowed everyone to think that he had. Another drawback I found in this book was the fact that everyone was hoping the art thief would not be caught because he was “such a nice fellow”. In spite of this, Marvin was trying to communicate his thoughts about doing the right thing (which was good). Unfortunately communication between boy and beetle was difficult at best.
Recommendation: Although this book was referred to as “young adult”, I’m not sure that it would appeal to that age group. It seems more appropriate for the 9-12 age group. Perhaps it was placed in the “YA” category because of the references to art and art history. I think this book has a lot going for it, but it might be best to be prepared to discuss the dishonesty issue with young readers.