The roaring ‘20s don’t feel so fun for Martha, who has to start working as a maid for the wealthy Sewell family on the Upper East Side of New York City. Martha has heard the stories about crazy Rose Sewell who used to be a well-known, art collecting adventurer, but has taken a turn for the worse and now won’t leave her room. Mr. Sewell runs a newspaper and is the epitome of a well-made man, but Martha thinks something else may be going on beneath the surface. When she stumbles into the nearly empty gallery where hundreds of the world’s foremost paintings once hung she finds her first clues. The few paintings left are trying to tell her something! Martha must figure out what is going on in the household and if Rose is really crazy or if she, like the women in her paintings, is trying to get a message across.
The excess of the 1920s, a mysterious household, and clues in paintings are all I needed to make me scramble for this book. And it did not disappoint. This is a middle grade novel, but I found myself trying to analyze the art pieces along with the main character. After the novel described certain art pieces, which it did really well, I’d look them up so I could see what the character was seeing. This would be a great classroom book, for exactly this reason! You can discuss artists and meaning in art alongside the novel. On top of that, the book takes place right before the stock market crash and it continues giving clues as to what is about to happen along with demonstrating shady dealings that proliferated the demise.
I enjoyed the characters along with the story in this book. Martha’s family reminded me of the Nolan family from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Much like the Nolans, Martha’s mother was the breadwinner, while her father was often absent and underemployed. Still Martha revered her father above her mother until her eyes were finally opened to just how hard her mom worked for the family and how little her father actually cared.
Rose Sewell remained a bit of a mystery and I wished we could get to know her a bit more. Her story is told here and there throughout the novel, but her character remained locked in her room.
The book was a fun read for mystery lovers. It also gave a look into the ’20s from a kid’s perspective that I haven’t seen before. As said before, this is a great book for discussion with all the art references. Children can learn about symbolism and art along with Martha.