The Secret Series, as this quintet of books (the fifth book to be released on September 20, 2011) is called, began in 2007 with The Name of this Book is Secret, authored by the mysterious Pseudonymous Bosch (which reminds me of the imaginative Dutch painter Heironymous Bosch) and perfectly illustrated by the wonderful Gilbert Ford. The Name of this Book is Secret was published the same year as Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society and the two have some similarities - intrepid, quirky main characters who uncover the mysterious machinations of devious, maniacal adults. And, of course, both series owe a nod to Lemony Snicket and his Series of Unfortunate Events. However, of the three, The Secret Series has to be my favorite. Bosch's narration and frequent interruption of the story to protect the reader, give advice and share background information on the characters as well as word definitions is entertaining and the appendix he provides at the back of the book is brilliant. But, it is the characters of Cass and Max-Ernest (can't help but think of the German Surrealist artist Max Ernst) that I love best about the book.
Chapter One in The Name of this Book is Secret looks a lot like a secret CIA document that has been released to the public, consisting entirely of XXXXXs (and punctuation.) Chapter One and a Half is titled "Apologia," complete with humorous definition of the word and explanation, of sorts, for the level of secrecy. From there, we are cautiously introduced to Cass, who never goes anywhere without her backpack. She is a prepared survivalist and is always on the lookout for potential disasters. She has even been known to ask the school principal, Mrs Johnson, to evacuate the premises when a toxic spill is suspected. Cass's mother Mel is raising her alone, with the help of Grandpa Larry and Grandpa Wayne, neither of whom are actually her grandfathers. Larry and Wayne run an antiques store out of an old firehouse and this is the setting for the start of the mystery when Gloria, a local real estate agent, drops by with a box of odds and ends from a house she is selling that once belonged to a magician. Each book in The Secret Series has a link to one of the five sense and in The Name of this Book is Secret the sense of smell is at the center of the plot. Amidst the junk that Gloria leaves at the firehouse, Cass uncovers an old wooden box with the words The Symphony of Smells etched across the top and ninety-nine small vials of liquids, powders, plant life, shards of wood, even a human hair - all of which have a distinct smell that can elicit a specific response, especially for people who are synesthetic. Synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an automatic, involuntary experience in a second sensory of cognitive pathway. So, a synesthetic might assign colors to numbers and letters. Another might assign colors, numbers or letters to smells, as in The Name of this Book is Secret.
The discovery of the box and her exploration of it leads Cass to befriend Max-Ernest, a compulsive talker and joke teller who has never gotten a laugh out of anyone. Max-Ernst is a child of two divorced parents who, believing that a child should be raised by two parents in one home, have divided their house down the middle and expressed their widely different design tastes accordingly. A strange alliance, they set off for the magician's house in search of more details. Their hunt leads them to ultimately rescue a synesthetic classmate who has been kidnapped by the Masters of the Midnight Sun, a secret organization searching for the ultimate secret - immortality. Cass and Max-Ernest learn the sad story of the magician, Pietro Bergamo, who came to America from Italy when he was nine along with his twin, Luciano. They boys were also synesthetes and were taken in by a circus where they developed an act based on their secret skills. This attracted the attention of one Ms. Mauvais, Master of the Midnight Sun, who stole away Luciano for her nefarious purposes. When the children meet up with Ms Mauvais and Dr L many decades have passed but neither of them has aged. Bosch brings together a multitude of influences and ideas in The Name of this Book is Secret, but the informative, friendly tone of the narrator keeps the story from ever being weighed down with details. This series of books has a HUGE following and are always flying off the shelves at the store where I work, as are the Series of Unfortunate Events and Mysterious Benedict Society books, all of which have detailed, unique characters who are intelligent, if not always lucky, brave and ultimately able to outsmart slightly demented adults with elaborate plans. If you are a writer out there looking for a plot, think about it. However, be warned, I am certain that writing books like those by Bosch, Snicket and Stewart may seem much easier than it actually is...
And, happiest of all, as a major skeeball fan, I was THRILLED to discover the website for The Secret Series, which has a wonderful selection of carnival games related to the book, including a computerized version of skeeball that allows you to win really cool downloads of printable paper toys!!
The next four books in the series are as follows, and feature sound, taste (with a delicious twist and devious use for chocolate) sight and touch.