I've been meaning to write this review for a month now--I read Masterpiece in one sitting, and absolutely loved it. It's definitely a top book of 2008, and a main contender for a Cybils' award. Who knows--maybe even the Newbery!
Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can’t go through with the plan without Marvin’s help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!).
I loved the way Elise wrote Shakespeare's Secret, and with Masterpiece, she made good on every bit of faith I'd placed in her. It's the perfect middle grade novel: not too long, full of smiles, unfaltering action, and most important of all, intelligence.
There is no resisting an author who handles tough issues this way:
Marvin thought back to the conversation in James's bedroom. "Why don't beetles ever get divorced?"
His mother considered that for a moment. "Well, our lives are short, darling. What would be the point? We have so little time, we must spend it as happily as possible."
She tucked the cotton fluff more securely around Marvin. "And we expect a lot less than people do. If we get through the day without being stepped on, with a little food to fill our bellies, a safe place to bed down for a few hours, and our family and friends close by--well, that's a good day, isn't it? In fact, a perfect day. Who could ask for more?"
Marvin snuggled into the soft bedding and nodded sleepily. "I guess," he said.
"Also, we have no lawyers," his mother added, leaving the room.
So, so perfect.
Masterpiece reminded me that a book doesn't have to be The Great American Novel to be a great American novel (an easy fact to forget when you're in the middle of writing a novel yourself). The story is simple, but meaningful and satisfying. What more can a reader ask?