I was first drawn to The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin, 2014) because it takes place in Chicago and the author is a librarian. Once I started reading, I found that Saba Khan, the teenage heroine, lives just a mile or so from my home in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of the city. I was quickly drawn into the story, which blends elements like teen angst and learning to get along with arson and art theft.
Without revealing too much of the plot, here’s a quick rundown. Saba’s family’s apartment burns in an arson-caused fire and they lose all their possessions. Her fellow students at the private school where she is on scholarship want to have a benefit auction to help the family, and one donated item turns out to be quite valuable. Chaos and crime ensues.
The text is almost all in the form of first person narratives from different characters, including Saba, her parents, others students, and teachers. Some are police or newspaper interviews, some are journals entries; there are even a few text messages. It took me a bit to get used to this, as well as to the different fonts used to express handwritten entries, but I got into it fairly quickly.
Klise manages to touch on quite a few interesting issues, especially cultural, religious and socioeconomic diversity as exemplified by Saba and other students. The mystery is not particularly complex, but it did keep me guessing until the end. While the crimes committed are serious, there’s no violence or drugs involved. The Art of Secrets will be engrossing for most young adult readers, and quite a few grown-ups as well.
Librarian side note: there were comments in the text about a student using the library catalog terminals for email. Only a librarian would bring this up, so I know the author is the real deal.