Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Mystery to Share With the Kids: THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE, Phoebe Stone

I'm a Nancy Drew fan -- always was, always will be -- but I have to admit that Phoebe Stone surges well past my idol of teen mystery in her new book THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE. If the "goodness" of a book can be measured by how many people you want to give or loan copies to right away, this one is a 10+. And omigosh, it is not a coming-of-age novel (whew! had enough of those lately). But it's jammed with mystery, suspense, and love.

Eleven-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig arrives at her grandmother's home in Maine, totally bewildered by what her parents are doing. They've brought her from England, where bombs have been falling in the German attacks, and the Americans haven't yet jumped in to help. Felicity travels with her old stuffed bear, Wink; she calls her parents Winnie and Danny; and she only knows that they intend her safety as they abandon her to the relatives she's never before met.

Almost immediately, she loses even the familiarity of her name, as the Yankee relations give her a family nickname to go with her new life: Flissy. The don't do it to be mean, and it's her grandmother who provides the name, as Felicity samples the incredible secret almond and honey muffins, closing her eyes to keep her "British balance" and reserve.
"What did I tell you?" said Uncle Gideon.
"See what we meant?" said Aunt Miami.
"Well, that settles it," said The Gram. "She must have a nickname. Everybody gets a nickname here if they like my muffins. What about Flissy?"
It's a pet name, and although it would be better to check with her parents first, Flissy has no option to do that -- they've returned to their mysterious activities in Europe, without a promise of coming back to her, and nobody explains anything. What's worse, Flissy soon discovers her father is sending letters to Uncle Gideon. But not to her. And ... the letters are in a code she can't read.

Between locked doors, a visitor from Washington, the problems of Aunt Miami, and the grim rulings by The Gram, Flissy is half bewildered and half determined. She's going to decode what's happening to her, and she's going to stick up for her parents, no matter what secrets seem to lie in their past -- and her present.

Written from Phoebe Stone's own childhood experience of a year in Britain and the delicious accent and new words that she brought home to America, this is a tale of intrigue and detection. Flissy's forms of courage are called for in so many ways that half the time you wish you could put your arms around her and let her have a good cry. The other half the time, you're saying, "Yes, open that door!"

No matter what ages your best friends and relatives are, from eight to eighty, this is a dandy book to share with them. But don't tell them what's going to happen! And I won't tell you, either. Except ... wow, you're going to love it. So would Nancy Drew.

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