Jin lives in Harlem with her grandparents, who run a bodega. They adopted her after her mother abandoned her. She enjoys living in her neighborhood and likes the grocery store, even if she doesn't always appreciate having to work there. Her best friend, Rose, is having a hard time because her parents are divorcing. When Jin sees a girl leaving free bus passes around the neighborhood, she follows her. The girl goes to her school, but the two have never talked. Alex turns out to be nice, and the two become friends, especially when they meet Elvin. It helps their investigation later that Alex's father is very wealthy, although she tries to hide this from her new friends. Elvin has come to Harlem to live with a grandfather he didn't know he had because his mother is undergoing treatment for cancer in California. Unfortunately, Elvin's grandfather has been attacked and is in the hospital, and Elvin managed to get himself locked out of their apartment. There is a developed who is trying to put together a Harlem World theme park, and the children start to worry that this is going to ruin their neighborhood. They also realize that the grandfather's attack might have had something to do with a painting by a 1960s artist who dropped out of sight that was found. This artist was part of a group of writers and artists who called themselves "The Invisible 7", and Elvin's grandfather was one of them. Using a book of poetry written by one of the members, Jin and her friends try to find where other paintings might be found, and try to thwart the developer's plans before the neighborhood is ruined.
Strengths: This had a lot of interesting information about Harlem. There are a few books about the Renaissance, but nothing about the 1960s. The cast of characters was nicely diverse, and the developers deliciously evil. Even though there were a lot of characters, I was able to keep them all straight, and the clues for the mystery made sense, too. That might seem silly, but it is crucially important to a middle grade mystery!
Weaknesses: Even though Jin's caretakers were older, if they adopted her, wouldn't they be her parents? That bothered me, for some reason. This could have used some editing to simplify the story and shorten the book a bit, which would have made it appealing to more readers.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Had a bit more zing than many of the art related mysteries that writers like to produce for middle grade readers.
Ages 8-12 978-0545783873 320 pages
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA
See more of her recommendations: http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com
Harlem is home to all kinds of kids. Jin sees life passing her by from the window of her family's bodega. Alex wants to help the needy one shelter at a time, but can't tell anyone who she really is. Elvin's living on Harlem's cold, lonely streets, surviving on his own after his grandfather was mysteriously attacked.
When these three strangers join forces to find out what happened to Elvin's grandfather, their digging leads them to an enigmatic artist whose missing masterpieces are worth a fortune-one that might save the neighborhood from development by an ambitious politician who wants to turn it into Harlem World, a ludicrous historic theme park. But if they don't find the paintings soon, nothing in their beloved neighborhood will ever be the same . . .
In this remarkable tale of daring and danger, debut novelist Natasha Tarpley explores the way a community defines itself, the power of art to show truth, and what it really means to be home.--from the publisher