Review: The Atomic Weight of Secrets

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Atomic Weight of SecretsThe Atomic Weight of Secrets, or, the Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch
Series: The Young Inventors Guild #2
Published by Bancroft Press on January 1, 2011
Genres: Adventure, Historical, Mystery, Steampunk
Pages: 339
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world's most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had.

But all that changed the day the men in black arrived.

They arrived to take twelve-year-old Jasper Modest and his six-year-old sister, Lucy he with his remarkable creations and she with her perfect memory from their London, England home to a place across the ocean they'd never seen before.

They arrived to take nine-year-old Wallace Banneker, last in a long line of Africa-descended scientists, from his chemistry, his father, and his New York home to a life he d never imagined.

Twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas, already missing his world-famous and beloved mother, was taken from Toronto, Canada, carrying only his clothes, his violin, and his remarkable mind.

And thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta, the genius daughter of India's wealthiest and most accomplished scientists, was removed by force from her life of luxury.

From all across the world, they've been taken to mysterious Sole Manner Farm, and a beautiful but isolated schoolhouse in Dayton, Ohio, without a word from their parents as to why. Not even the wonderful schoolteacher they find there, Miss Brett, can explain it. She can give them love and care, but she can t give them answers.

Things only get stranger from there. What is the book with no pages Jasper and Lucy find in their mother's underwear drawer, and why do the men in black want it so badly?

How is it all the children have been taught the same bizarre poem and yet no other rhymes or stories their entire lives?

And why haven't their parents tried to contact them?

Whatever the reasons, to brash, impetuous Faye, the situation is clear: They and their parents have been kidnapped by these terrible men in black, and the only way they're going to escape and rescue their parents is by completing the invention they didn't even know they were all working on an invention that will change the world forever.

But what if the men in black aren't trying to harm the children? What if they're trying to protect them?

And if they're trying to protect them, from what?

An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Mysterious Men in Black , the first book of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy, is a truly original novel. Young readers will forever treasure Eden Unger Bowditch's funny, inventive, poignant, and wonderfully fun fiction debut.

This book reminded me from the first pages of the Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart (which incidentally are quite delightful). Although different in some aspects, they share the group of young people of immeasurable intelligence, all with their own skill to bring to the task at hand. Fans of the Mysterious Benedict Society should read this now! Non-fans should read both!

Every chapter title begins with a title and then an alternative title, just like book does. Part of me thinks that using this device in modern books is a bit pompous, but another part thinks that it’s really awesome, so… Anyway, this method does work pretty well, given the historical fiction setting (late nineteenth century). Watch out for the cameo by some historical figures; it was clever and a bit unexpected.

The only weakness of the book is the nebulousness of the forces of evil. Nothing is really resolved or figured out at the end of the novel. Since this is the first in the series, this does not necessarily doom the book. The men in black are figures of menace (maybe?) throughout the book, but only sort of. There is a limit to how menacing people can be while dressed thus:

“Actually, there were two waiting carriages, one driven by a man wearing dark glasses, a black cape, and a bullfighter’s hat that appeared to have actual horns coming out of either side, the other by a driver who seemed to be so short that he’s have a hard time seeing over the knee guard on the coachman’s seat. That said, his hat was so tall it seemed it would stretch higher than the man himself, is they were placed side by side. Like his fluffy jumper and ballooning trousers, the hat was black. His glasses, or rather goggles, were black, too.” (58)

The Atomic Weight of Secrets is wonderfully written and a joy to read. It’s in stores and libraries now, so look for it! I will be waiting impatiently for book two.

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