Katie Fitzgerald's Reviews > Chasing Vermeer

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
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Sep 17, 2016

it was ok
bookshelves: read-2011, level-middle-grade, genre-mystery, blog-reviewed, published-2000s, format-audiobooks
Read in June, 2011

Chasing Vermeer is the story of two sixth graders, Calder and Petra, who, through a series of coincidences, become involved in solving a major art theft. The story involves mysterious letters, a bookstore owner, a sixth grade teacher, a kid who may or may not be missing, a set of pentominoes, the works of Charles Fort, and an old woman whose husband was murdered. These ingredients sound like the recipe for great children's literature, but despite the many glowing reviews it has received, I think this book misses the mark.

There was a lot of really wonderful writing in this book. The tone and style grabbed me from the outset, and I liked the slow unfolding of the mystery, and the fact that I, as the reader, never knew who to suspect and was kept in constant suspense. I liked the main characters, too, in the beginning, even with the audiobook narrator's annoyingly nasal voice for Calder.

Unfortunately, though, the plot relies too heavily on coincidence. In a true mystery, there are clues that draw the reader ever closer to discovering the mystery's culprit, and maybe just a couple of red herrings to keep the suspense going. In this book, solving the crime was impossible because the reader wasn't privy to enough information. I was kept in suspense through the whole story only to be let down by the disappointingly contrived climax of the book. Coincidences seem meaningful in real life because they are so random. When an author calculates a huge number of coincidences, they don't seem as meaningful or as amazing. Instead, the reader feels unfairly manipulated, and, at least in my case, cheated. I also found it incredibly puzzling that the narrator of the audiobook couldn't seem to remember how to pronounce Petra's name. Throughout the second half of the book, she repeatedly says "Pee-tra," with a long E, at random times in the narration.

I have recommended this book twice since I read it - once to a mom looking for a read-aloud for her twin boys who like adventure stories, and a second time to a mom who is from Chicago, who I thought would enjoy the many references to local landmarks. It seems like this is one of those really polarizing books that people either love or hate, so I'll be really curious to see which side these two parents - and their kids - come down on. I am definitely not a fan of this book, I'm sorry to say, and I've decided to pass on the two follow-ups. If you are interested, though, they are The Calder Game, and The Wright 3.
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Reading Progress

09/17 marked as: read-2011

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