Title: The Art of Secrets
Author: James Klise
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
I found The Art of Secrets at my local library branch, my interest having been piqued by the simple cover and the description of the book on the inside flap. So many YA books nowadays have people (usually only parts of people) or couples (usually without visible faces) that when I find one without humans on the cover, I’m extra interested.
First, a brief summary from the author’s website, which is similar to the inside cover blurb which made me pick it up:
A fire destroys…
A community unites…
A treasure appears…
A crime unfolds…
When Saba Khan’s family home burns in a mysterious fire (possibly a hate crime), her Chicago high school rallies around her. But then a piece of quirky art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be worth a fortune, and Saba’s life turns upside down again.
Greed, jealousy, and suspicion create an increasingly tangled web as adults and teens alike debate who should get the money, question one another’s motives, and make startling accusations.
This was definitely an intriguing enough plot, but I felt like the book lacked in execution.
What I liked most was that Kline didn’t shy away from exploring the darker sides of the human race. Were certain characters helping raise money for the Khans because they wanted to help the family? Or because they wanted to boost their own resumes? Were the Khans at fault for the fire? Or was someone unfairly targeting them because of their ethnicity? Why would people believe the first option over the second, given the evidence at hand? Motivation, discrimination, deceit – all of these are fully explored in the novel.
However, the book’s format is where it seemed to fall apart. The story is told through interviews, radio segments, journal entries, newspaper articles, etc. It’s a mish-mash of facts and narratives from characters throughout the community. The format was certainly unique, and compelling to read, but because of the variety of the narratives, the book became too focused on exposition. It was all about what was happening rather than character development. I also couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters because there were so many of them and because they each got so little focus.
The Art of Secrets was on Booklist’s “Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth 2014” list, which is definitely well deserved. It’s a fabulous crime novel and mystery – just don’t go into it expecting great characters or character development, because you won’t find any. That being said, overall, I enjoyed reading it, and the ending definitely made my time worthwhile.
3 out of 5 stars.