Viking/Penguin, 2017 355 pages
Four seemingly unrelated kids find each other in New York City and save the world from the clutches of the Nazi's in this novel featuring spies, art, and Arthurian legend. Its 1941 and World War II is suddenly becoming not just a European war. After recently losing her mother, Madge is unhappily living away from her siblings with a distracted aunt. Walt has escaped the Nazis only to have left his parents behind and be hindered by guilt. Native American, Joe, has escaped an abusive school where he has been forced to forget his Mohawk language and customs, bringing out a rage that both surprises and frightens him. Finally, Japanese Kiku misses her mother, who is back in Japan, and feels conspicuous and mistrusted as America enters the war against her home country and she has suddenly become the enemy. These four young people meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they see a valuable copy of the original King Arthur Tales stolen. The perpetrator is a Nazi spy and the enemy is using this valuable manuscript to send secret coded messages, conveying plans to blow-up New York City. As the kids try to hunt for the coded messages throughout the museum and other areas of the city, they start to develop super-powers, such as the ability to understand all language, super-strength, and the ability to disappear. The abilities correspond with their personal back-stories and become stronger when the young people are together. Are they actually new incarnations of King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Morgaine? Myth, history, espionage, and magic all come together to create this whopper of a tale all set under the backdrop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during a pivotal time in our country's past.
This new book, penned by a veteran author of books for teenagers and adults, is being compared to The Mixed Up Files, Night at the Museum, and Chasing Vermeer. It is set at a museum and is adventurous, but is really its own unique story. Set in World War II, it will appeal to fans of historical fiction and is seeped further in this time period than most offerings for young people. Goodman uses the slang of the time and makes many pop culture references; so many that it may make the book a bit unrelatable to today's youth. The fantasy is realistic in nature and feels believable. I love Arthurian legends, so this was a fun element to the book. Kids do not need to be familiar with these legends and reading this story may encourage them to dive into the actual tales. The characters are diverse in both gender and ethnicity, which will welcome a great cross-section of readers. The plot cooks along at a break-neck speed and the action and twists never waver. Sometimes I became a little confused, so I would not recommend this book to reluctant readers. It is what I call "smart-kid fiction" and will be best appreciated by readers who like to really sink their teeth into a book that challenges them and makes them think. I love the New York City setting and, of course, am always happy to see books set in the Met. Hopefully it will encourage readers to visit this great museum after they finish reading the book and will lead them to the magical world of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.