Pseudonymous Bosch's The Name of This Book Is Secret
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Mystery Full of Secrets, Warnings, Synesthesia, and Evil Alchemists
As a hobby librarian volunteering in an under-funded elementary school, I don’t read a lot of children’s literature journals, but I do take notice when kids start fighting over our single copy of a particular book, and The Name of This Book Is Secret is such a book. Our paperback copy is dog-eared, water-damaged, and, I’m ashamed to admit, slightly mildewed at the back, and I can’t keep it on the shelf.
Review: The Name of This Book Is Secret
Although written with a sort of scathing, Lemony Snicketesque tongue-in-cheek humor, the book takes itself seriously enough to issue repeated dire warnings as to the consequences of learning the book’s secrets. How far does the author, “Pseudonymous Bosch” go? Well, the book begins with the warning: “Do Not Read Beyond This Page” and the first chapter is completely censored. Or rather, it is written out in complete sentences with punctuation and appropriate capitalization, using only the letter X. The main characters are given few identifying features, and, at one point, a street name is blanked out. The protagonists are given pseudonyms.
Giving away too many of the secrets in Name of This Book would spoil the fun, but the story begins with a girl referred to as Cassandra, not because her name is Cassandra, but, because, like the ancient Greek prophet of the same name, “she is always predicting disaster. …she is an expert in all things terrible and she sees evidence of them everywhere.” Also like Cassandra, she is doomed to have no one ever believe her predictions. Unlike Cassandra, her predictions do not tend to come true. However, she considers herself a survivalist, and carries with her at all times a backpack full of items to prepare her for a variety of disasters.
Her collaborator in adventure is eleven-year-old Max-Ernest, who has an unidentified problem. He has either ADD, autism, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, or, possibly the problem lies with his parents, who have never been able to agree on anything, including his name, or which one of them should move out of the house, since they’ve been divorced for eleven years. Max-Ernest, although a social outcast with a tortured sense of humor, is knowledgeable and literal, and takes Cass’s concerns seriously. Ergo, he is the perfect person to help her investigate the Symphony of Smells and its attendant mystery.
One day a week, Cass has tea with her “substitute” grandfathers, Larry and Wayne, who own a remodeled fire station that serves as a repository for their antique business, and the Symphony of Smells enters her life. It’s a mysterious and finely carved old box, full of glass vials, each one containing a different and distinct smell. The box also contains a message in code, and when Cass and Max-Ernest figure it out, they are determined to find the box’s original owner.
Thus begins their adventure. From breaking and entering to impersonating a celebrity, there is nothing that Cass won’t do to work through the series of puzzles she encounters and solve the mystery. What is the mystery? Well, that’s part of the secret. But it involves synesthesia, a very real human condition in which sensory stimulation is received in unusual ways: sounds may be interpreted as images, whereas images might be perceived as flavors. And it also involves alchemy, the ancient art of transformation. And there are secret rooms, kidnapped children, and a luxury spa for the rich and famous.
The Name of this Book Is Secret is a can’t-put-down kind of novel. I read it in one sitting, eager to follow the clues along with Cass and discover each new secret as it was revealed. The antagonists are sufficiently wicked to serve as true villains. The writing is intelligent, and the different codes are breakable with a little insight. Humorous and interesting details are spelled out in the occasional footnote. An appendix at the back includes interesting details such as how to make a compass from a cork, a needle, and a magnet; how to do a card trick; and how to break a code; along with a glossary of carnie lingo. There is a great deal to admire and enjoy in The Name of This Book Is Secret, and it’s no wonder there’s been such a run on it in my library.
Webmaster's note: Sarah Denslow reviews the entire Secret Series.
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