Walls Within Walls

Book Reviews

Sherry, Maureen Walls within Walls; illus. by Adam Stower. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2010 360p

ISBN 978-0-06-176700-5 $16.99 Ad Gr. 4-6

The four Smithfork children, twelve-year-old CJ, nine-year-old Brid, six-year-old Patrick, and toddler Carron, aren’t crazy about moving to Manhattan from their beloved Brooklyn home. Their huge new yet historic flat, however, is filled with mysterious details—snatches of poetry written on the moldings around windows, and a mammoth painting of an eye whose painted tears prove to contain coded words. As they unravel the code, the kids find out that it was part of a literal treasure hunt laid out decades ago by the wealthy magnate who owned the flat, and they’re determined to follow the clues to the end and uncover the treasure—if a competing treasure-seeker and clueless parental restrictions don’t stop them first. The writing tends to be shallow and stodgily literal, and the plot has some serious slow patches, especially when large chunks of encyclopedic information spill implausibly out of characters’ mouths. However, the book has much of the enterprising spirit of old-fashioned series fiction about young sleuths from the Hardy Boys to Trixie Belden, and despite its length it has much of their accessibility as well (enhanced by occasional monochromatic charcoal-textured illustrations). The details of the old building, its secret nooks and crannies, and the bits of coded clues secreted throughout it are atmospheric and enticing, and there’s a good balance between secure adult protection and looming danger. The codes are technically pretty easily solvable (though their New York implications will be likeliest to be guessed by locals), and the tour of city landmarks brings its own enjoyment, so readers not up to the sophistication of Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (BCCB 7/04) may find this a more suitable puzzle-themed jaunt. Appendices sort out fact from fiction on the elements of New York history and geography involved in the story and offer sources for those elements and more.  DS

Walls within Walls.
Sherry, Maureen (author).  Illustrated by Adam Stower.
Sept. 2010. 368p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, hardcover, $16.99 (9780061767005). Grades 4-7.

REVIEW.  First published September 15, 2010 (Booklist).

The Smithfork children, at least the older ones, CJ, Brid, and Patrick—12, 9, and 6, respectively—are unhappy about leaving Brooklyn for Manhattan. Their father’s video-game business is so lucrative that they’re moving to a fabulous Fifth Avenue apartment once owned by the Post family. The kids are as depressed as they are unimpressed, until they notice something unusual about the place. Turns out the apartment is a giant puzzle filled with codes, clues, and carvings that seem to point toward a secret fortune. But finding it and figuring out who it belongs to takes skill, stamina, and the ability to conduct searches across the city without tipping their hand. This can be dense, but like Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (2004), it packs all sorts of interesting information about topics like history and architecture into a mystery that kids can (almost) solve. Although the way the children run around Manhattan may raise some eyebrows, readers will get a real feel for the uniqueness that is New York City. — Ilene Cooper

Horn Book Guide:
Sherry, Maureen Walls Within Walls
   360 pp. HarperCollins/Tegen 2010. ISBN 978-0-06-176700-5
(4) 4-6 Illustrated by Adam Stower. The Smithfork children stumble onto a decades-old treasure hunt within the walls of the ritzy Manhattan apartment to which they’ve recently moved. Coded poetry and peeks behind hidden walls begin their search for the missing inheritance of the apartment’s original owner, whose elderly daughter joins them in an attempt to solve her family’s secrets. The ambitious but somewhat muddled mystery features relatable characters.

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
SHERRY, Maureen. Walls Within Walls. illus. by Adam Stower. 348p. bibliog. Web sites. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-176700-5. LC 2010009494.

Gr 5-8–Twelve-year-old CJ, his nine-year-old sister Brid, and six-year-old Patrick Smithfork resent leaving Brooklyn for Manhattan, even though they are pleased that their dad’s video-game company has struck it rich. Finding a wall, a painting, and a book behind a grille in their historical Fifth Avenue apartment, the children start to decipher clues that send them on an architectural treasure hunt. Their neighbor Eloise Post hopes that the hunt will reveal the whereabouts of her father’s lost fortune from the 1930s. The man left a book of poems by Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others that lead to seven famous structures around the city. This debut novel is a breathtaking romp, focusing on the work of little-known master tile mason and architect Rafael Guastavino. Sherry’s passion will make readers fall in love with New York and the poems that portray its many personalities. Full-page illustrations appear throughout. There is a majesty to the author’s juxtaposition of monument and poem, although this grandeur masks some of the book’s irregularities. The third-person perspective shifts in a way that distances readers from the main characters and impedes character development. Secondary figures are sometimes sketched lightly, although the implied sequel may develop them more fully. Similar to “The 39 Clues” (Scholastic) books or Michael D. Beil’s “The Red Blazer Girls” (Knopf), this story incorporates many subplots but lacks a tidy narrative. Nevertheless, readers will relish being tourists on this treasure hunt, no matter what. Pick it up and watch for the sequel.–Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT


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