1.12.2009

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist 254 pp RL 4



















**For those of your lucky enough to be reading these books in hardcover, remove the jacket and check out what's underneath, if possible!**

It is so hard for me to read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett without thinking of EL Konigsberg's masterpiece, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs basil E Frankweiller. Although both books concern mysterious or disappearing works of art by well known artists, the similarities end there. Chasing Vermeer is, above all else, a mystery story where as From the Mixed-up Files is at its heart a story about personal growth, emotional connections and change. While Konigsburg focuses on the interior lives of Claudia and to some extent, her brother Jamie, Balliett focuses on Calder and Petra, classmates and awkward new friends who are brought together by a series of odd coincidences. Before I go any further I have to state a personal quirk as an adult reader. For some reason, I can suspend my disbelief to read a fantasy or science fiction novel but I cannot do this when reading a mystery. Over the past twenty-five years I have dabbled in everything from Agatha Christie to Ayelet Waldman's Mommy-Track mysteries and I just can't get over the way mysteries play out. The coincidences just seem to coincidental to me and I am either frustrated by the fact that I knew who the culprit/murderer was from the start or I never saw it coming. I never feel like I can play along with the sleuths at their own pace.

Despite my issues, Balliett does a wonderful job cramming Chasing Vermeer full of all sorts of disparate facts and figures. Among them are pentominoes, the use of which is detailed in a note that follows a map of the neighborhood where the story takes place and precedes a note about pentomino clues hidden within Brett Helquist's illustrations. There is also the presence of Charles Fort, a writer and skeptic who studied odd phenomena and astonishing facts. Among these are 294 records of showers of living things, such as frogs, that fell from the sky. Petra and Calder are amazed and influenced by Fort's writings, which they pick up in the giveaway bin at the used bookstore where Calder works as a delivery boy. They begin to be open to the possibility of coincidence and see connections in everything. They also begin to rely increasingly on their intuitions and dreams as the mystery deepens. The mystery itself, the disappearance of the Vermeer painting, "A Lady Writing" as it is in transit to an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago causes a national uproar when the thief threatens to destroy the it if the art loving world will not investigate the paintings of Vermeer and accept that he, alone, did not paint all of the works that are currently attributed to him. Adding this controversy, which I am sure has roots in reality, to the story adds yet another layer to the plot and draws in more characters as well as draws together the three unknown recipients of threatening, anonymous letters that were delivered in the beginning of the book.

A lot goes in the 254 pages of this book. Sometimes it feels like a little but too much. But, like I said, mysteries aren't my thing and I am reading with a critical adult eye, not a wondering 10 year old's eye. This book has everything to recommend it to any young reader who likes a good mystery, a good chase and some interesting facts about art, authors and pentominoes!

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