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Professor Plum, in the Library, With the Candlestick

James Klise's The Art of Secrets. Someone in this school is a thief. I don't want to point any fingers, but it was totally...

Professor Plum, in the Library, With the Candlestick

BOOK REPORT for The Art of Secrets by James Klise

Cover Story: Working Cover
Drinking Buddy: In a Smokey Bar, a Package Changes Hands Under a Table
Testosterone Level: The Monsters are Due on Maple Street
Talky Talk: Whodunnit?
Bonus Factors: Diversity, Teachers Have Feelings Too
Bromance Status: I'm Going to Keep My Eye On You

Cover Story: Working Cover

This looks like the blank cover they use on the ARCs (advance reader copies) they send out to reviewers. But less is more, I guess.

The Deal:

Saba Khan's family lost everything when their condo burned down in a deliberately-set fire. Fortunately, Saba goes to a fancy schmancy private school and her classmates rally around her, holding an auction to help the Khans get back on their feet. And wouldn't you know it, among the donated items is what appears to be a notebook full of original sketches by Henry Darger, a Chicago artist who was not appreciated until after his death. Work by him could go for maybe half a million. The Khans go from homeless to potentially well-off.

And things keep getting better for Saba. She starts dating Steve, the most popular guy in school. They're allowed to live in a luxury condo until they can get back on their feet. Everyone wants to help them.

And then...the notebook disappears. It's been stolen. The rug is yanked out from under the Khans. Who could have done such a thing?

Drinking Buddy: In a Smokey Bar, a Package Changes Hands Under a Table

Saba is the main character here, but each chapter is told from a different point of view, about ten different characters in all. Each chapter takes the form of an e-mail, a statement, or an interview. While we get to learn the players' dirty little secrets, we're still never clued into who's behind all this.

But if you ask me, it was...

Testosterone Level: The Monsters are Due on Maple Street

If you've never seen this classic episode of The Twilight Zone, it involves aliens messing with a neighborhood's power grid until everyone suspects everyone else and an all out riot ensues. That's essentially what goes on here. As soon as the valuable artwork vanishes, everyone starts pointing fingers:

It was Saba! Her parents are from Pakistan, you know how those Muslims are.

It was Kendra and Kevin Spoon! They're the ones who found the notebook and they want it for themselves.

It was Javier, the awkward Spanish exchange student! He's going to sneak the notebook to Europe and sell it there.

It was the principal! She's always complaining about the school's financial situation.

It was the art teacher! He'd know how to find a buyer for something like this!

Everyone suspects someone else. And not subtly, either. They flat out tell the world whom they think the criminal is. Fortunately, humans are rational and refuse to let petty accusations...

Oh, wait.

Talky Talk: Whodunnit?

It's nice to read a YA mystery that keeps you guessing to the very end. Any one of the suspects could have been the offender, and it's pretty impressive to keep the audience in the dark. Especially when you're writing in the first person.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Saba is a very likeable character, a faithful Muslim and an everyday teenage girl. Her parents are observant but not dictatorial: She can play tennis, but has to wear sweat pants. She's not supposed to date, but kind of gets around it.

And she's with dreamy Steve, who's not only one of the most popular guys in school, but the tallest. And he's totally not just dating her because she's temporarily famous and kind of exotic. Totally not.

Bonus Factor: Teachers Have Feelings Too

Rare for a YA book, we get a glimpse into the heads of a lot of the school teachers as well. The young English teacher is shunned as the new girl. The art teacher is gay and catches hell for that. The principal worries about the financial future of the school...how will she afford that Oriental rug for her office?

Okay, most of the adults in this story are just as petty and backstabbing as the kids. But it's nice when the teachers aren't just dull placeholders or cartoonish villains.

Bromance Status: I'm Going to Keep My Eye On You

Totally enjoyed this book. No, seriously. No reservations. It's just that...no...no, that's crazy thinking. I wasn't even reading it at the time. I'm sure there's a simple explanation.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.