Carrie's Reviews > Chasing Vermeer

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
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Jan 13, 09

Read in January, 2006

Another YA purchase from Green Apple books, and to be honest, a disappointment. This is a new-ish book, published in 2004, and while I had never read it before, I had high hopes. I had read reviews that said it was clever, it has expert illustrations by Brett Helquist (Lemony Snicket’s illustrator), and the inside flap lead me to believe it was a puzzle tale in the same vein as The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin.* Chasing Vermeer is not a terrible book, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

It tells the story of two outcast sixth graders, Petra and Calder, who come together and ultimately solve a mystery about a missing Vermeer painting. I loved the characters – the leads seemed like real, nerdy, slightly unpopular students, and the supporting characters were ok, if a bit clichéd from earlier books. Also, the writing had some beautifully lyrical passages that I really enjoyed. The fault I had was with the mystery. Half of the book seemed like a solvable puzzle, with clues for the reader (even clues built into the illustrations). The other half turned on mystical coincidences and psychic connections. In short – the book seemed to want to have it both ways, and thus, left me unsatisfied. The psychic mystical parts were actually quite nice – dreamy and philosophical, but they didn’t mesh with the everyday realness of the characters. The mystery, once solved was not an “Aha!”, but rather a “huh?” – a cobbled together explanation that was unsatisfying. Too many red herrings, not enough clues, and unsolvable, I think, if one wasn’t getting secret psychic messages. I would read another book by Ms. Balliett – she has a real gift for characterization and a way with words, but I would hope that next time she is more sharp in her thematics and plotting.
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