Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: March 18th 2014 by Dial
When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.
With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.
Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s middle grade debut novel, Under the Egg, deals, in its short length, with many pertinent and contemporary issues that affect children’s today. The novel focalizes on Theodora Tenpenny who is entirely self-sufficient and takes care of the house and her mother while battling the ever encroaching threat of poverty and foster care.
The novels is an ode to art as Fitzgerald skillfully weaves art history and thought into the narrative as Theodora and her newly made friend, Bodhi, find a painting and then try to investigate who the painting is by, who it belongs to and whether it is worth any money. I liked how poverty is portrayed with such finesse and delicacy which does not downplay its seriousness. The constant reiteration of the decreasing amount of money in the jar works to keep the issue primary in the readers’ minds. I was also surprised by the twist which leads to a discussion about war and the Holocaust and then goes on to a discourse about possessions and need versus want. The novel accomplishes these discussions in a lighthearted tone that requires a bit of a suspension of disbelief. The novel is careful not to be too graphic or explicit with matters of death but it does not shy away from including death in the narrative.
I enjoyed the novel thoroughly but I found it rather indulgent where the parent is concerned. Theodora’s mother is criminally neglectful and I am not sure whether her grandfather’s wishes that Theodora be the one to take care of her adult mother at her young age is entirely something I agree with. I felt that there needed to be a discussion with the mother because at the end of it all, Theodora is a child. There is no discussion and that’s where the adult authorship is most visible. Unless the mother was suffering from some mental disorder or any other debilitating disease, I do not think her actions or rather lack of actions make her a suitable mother. I could not excuse her lack of attention and care about her child and I thought it irresponsible of the grandfather to foist so heavy a burden on Theodora’s young shoulders. I wanted there to be resentment, some kind of blow up at the mother’s lack of mothering and I was quite frustrated that the novel did not go there.
That said, I did enjoy the novel to an extent and would recommend it to parents looking for books that deal with serious issues in a not-so-serious way.