Monday, October 24, 2016

The Master of Middle Grade Returns: The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart | Goodreads

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release: September 27, 2016
Source: The wonderful Kathy Ellen Davis
Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner Trenton Lee Stewart returns with a captivating, heart-stopping adventure about thrilling secrets and dangerous mysteries--and the courage to reveal the most frightening of truths.

Eleven-year-old Reuben spends his days exploring, hiding, and practicing parkour among the abandoned buildings of the Lower Downs as a way to escape the rough times that have befallen him and his mom--but his discovery of an extraordinary antique pocket watch changes everything. When Reuben finds that the watch has the power to turn him invisible, he's propelled on the adventure of a lifetime.

Now Reuben is being pursued by a group of dangerous men called the Directions, and someone--or something--ominously called The Smoke. They all want the watch, and with the help of new friends, it's up to Reuben to unravel the mysteries surrounding it and protect the city from evil.

New York Times bestselling author Trenton Lee Stewart's latest novel will enthrall old and new fans alike with the twists and turns of an inventive and compelling adventure reminiscent of The Mysterious Benedict Society series.
I loved this book. I've been staring at my computer screen for the past ten minutes, trying to contort my words to cleverly convey just how brilliantly The Secret Keepers shines, but no combination of adjectives seems to do the story justice. So instead I'll simply say exactly what I mean: I loved this book.

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy currently reigns as my favorite modern middle grade story (a spot it shares only with Louis Sachar's Holes), so when I first heard tell of The Secret Keepers, I spent several minutes jumping up and down, alerting everyone who I thought might share my excitement. It's been at the top of my TBR ever since, so as you may imagine, my expectations soared astronomically high. I had little worry that I'd be let down, and as soon as I started reading, I realized what worries I did have were unfounded; The Secret Keepers is a magnificently-plotted masterpiece of a middle grade novel that will delight old fans and readers new to the author's work alike.

Every major character in this novel—from the protagonist who aims to unravel the mysteries of an abandoned watch to the villain who inexplicably seeks it—lives up to the quirky-and-memorable standard that Stewart's previous works have set. The story's main adversary, The Smoke, could have used slightly more backstory development in terms of what led him to begin his search for the watch in the first place, but this flaw doesn't diminish his eccentricity and mysteriousness—and, more importantly, his dangerous determination to get what he wants. The two young characters who join the protagonist's mission to uncover the origins of the watch don't show up until surprisingly late in the plot but nonetheless add an engaging theme of teamwork and some additional bravery.

And, of course, we have Reuben. Reuben, who, much like the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society, is intelligent and inventive well beyond his years. Reuben, who still manages to make miscalculations and mistakes, repeatedly moving himself into harm's way. Reuben, who—through luck, through skill, through help from his friends—decides to gamble on risky decisions to meet his objectives. From the very first chapter, he becomes a lovable hero readers will care about and cheer for relentlessly, through his triumphs and ill-advised close calls alike.

Due to the endearing nature of its protagonist and the sinister nature of its villain, the plot of The Secret Keepers is a thrill ride packed with twists and turns and revelations and dilemmas. At about 550 pages, The Secret Keepers requires a bit of a time investment, but I wouldn't have cut out a single second of action. The two weeks I spent reading this novel brimmed with an ever-present ache to allow myself just one more chapter as well as several dreams based on the book's storyline (which shows how deeply Reuben's story engages readers). I could not wait to find out what new discovery would bring Reuben closer to his goal, what setback would send him into the throes of despair, and most of all how his schemes would turn out in the end.

And behind everything towers a memorable setting: the fictional city of New Umbra. Although it is not a real geographic location, this city is described in detail, from the socioeconomic status of specific neighborhoods to the stranglehold The Smoke has on the citizens and the law enforcement. The result is a vivid, believeable backdrop that seems like a place I could jump on a plane and visit.

I wish I could discuss every detail of The a Secret Keepers, but I can't say much more without the risk of spoiling the twisty plot. But I will say that I highly, highly recommend this novel—and, more broadly, this author in general—to readers from middle graders to adults. While The Mysterious Benedict Society is still my favorite Trenton Lee Stewart book, this one now occupies a spot high on my best-middle-grade list (and even best-in-general list). Again, I loved this book, and if you like shrouded mysteries, clever plotting, and prodigious characters, I'm sure you will too. 

3 comments:

  1. The Mysterious Benedict Society was the one of the highlights of my young reading life. It is honestly up there with Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia in terms of impact it had on my childhood. But I had no idea he was writing another series! But now I have to read it. I love middle grade adventure mysteries. They take me back to the days when I could sit and read all day without consequences.

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  2. YES. I was so scared that this wasn't going to be as good as Mysterious Benedict Society (one of my favorite series ever) but you have eased my fears Emily. So glad you enjoyed this so much and, as always, fabulous review! <3

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  3. I've been curious about The Mysterious Benedict Society, so I will have to move it to the top of my list. Thanks!

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