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The Harlem Charade

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  833 ratings  ·  166 reviews

Harlem is home to all kinds of kids. Jin sees life passing her by from the window of her family's bodega. Alex wants to help the needy one shelter at a time, but can't tell anyone who she really is. Elvin's living on Harlem's cold, lonely streets, surviving on his own after his grandfather was mysteriously attacked.

When these three strangers join
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Press
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  833 ratings  ·  166 reviews

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Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, need-to-own
Loved it. Review to come.

So. I feel as if the previous reviews have sincerely underestimated how wonderful, how significant this book is. The Harlem Charade is a mystery featuring three POC teens who rail when their neighborhood might be bulldozed to make way for an amusement park. The story also incorporates the history of 1960s Harlem artists fighting for inclusion in the mainstream art world.

Natasha Tarpley's writing is so deftly done, relating the significance of our past affecting our futur
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
3 compelling kids of color as MCs, a fun and thrilling mystery/adventure, a tribute to Black art and culture, and an accessible take on timely issues like gentrification. A++😊
Michele Knott
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fun mystery where the reader is constantly picking up new clues and having to figure out how they fit together. Also a story of unlikely friendships.
Ms. B
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, childrens, mystery
Set in Harlem, three children and a couple of their friends save their community and solve an art mystery in which readers will be able to follow the clues without solving secret codes and impossible puzzles.
As other reviewers have noted, fans of Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer and other art-related mysteries will enjoy this book. Anyone who likes history or has ever pondered the effects of the past on the present or the future will also enjoy it. Set in modern day Harlem, the book features three seventh graders whose lives and family backgrounds couldn't be more different. But when a chain of unlikely events draws Jin, Alexandra and Elvin together, they unite in an effort to solve the mystery of so ...more
Melanie Dulaney
Solid choice for students in grades 4-6 or those with an interest in art history, Harlem, and/or realistic mysteries. Jin, Alex and Elvin have no common ground on which to base a friendship, but a lost-then-found painting by an historic Harlem artist, a mega building project that will completely change their Harlem neighborhood, and a goat Pez dispense bring the unlikely pair together to solve a mystery, reveal a criminal, and right a wrong. While mysteries are not a tremendously popular genre i ...more
Meag McKeron
2.5 stars. The messages in this story were great - the importance of art and the preservation of culture, supporting local businesses, and helping friends and those in need. The whole "kids exploring their neighborhood and trying to solve a mystery before the evil building tycoons do" sounded interesting enough. But this just bored me. It was full of information dumps (the kids overhear things one too many times), and overall it was just clunky and slow. It was a valiant effort - you could tell ...more
Kate McCartney
Jin, Alex and Elvin want to save their historic neighborhood from being turned into an amusement park tourist trap.

I really enjoyed this. Great characters, a great setting.

2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge- a book with a cat on n the cover
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Didn't finish this. Several chapters in there started to be abrupt changes in narrative point of view, and I didn't think the main character used age-appropriate language. Disappointing, as I was looking forward to another art-centered mystery.
Alexia Gordon
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Combined art history and Harlem history with a mystery that was edgier than I expected for a MG novel. The message was a bit obvious but I'm not 10-12 years old. It might not be obvious to a middle grader.
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bluebonnet Book Reading 18-19. This was a great mystery book for kids. It has such great messages about not judging books by their covers, digging deeper, among other things.. this was a great read!
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Fun middle grade art mystery filled with lots of interesting facts about Harlem.
Christine Hwang
A realistic art mystery story about three children who come together to save their community from turning into a theme park.

Similar plot points to Chasing Vermeer.
Ms. Yingling
Oct 24, 2016 rated it liked it
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jin lives in Harlem with her grandparents, who run a bodega. They adopted her after her mother abandoned her. She enjoys living in her neighborhood and likes the grocery store, even if she doesn't always appreciate having to work there. Her best friend, Rose, is having a hard time because her parents are divorcing. When Jin sees a girl leaving free bus passes around the neighborhood, she follows her. The girl goes to her school, but the two have never talke
My absolute favorite types of stories are the ones about place. I adore novels in which the setting is so lively, so carefully and tenderly described that the place itself is one of the novel's central characters. This is a difficult thing to do, but when it is done well, it elevates a perfectly fine book to a great one.

Natasha Tarpley's 'The Harlem Charade' is just that sort of book. A young adult mystery novel set in what is arguably New York's most famous neighborhood, 'The Harlem Charade' f
American Mensa
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Harlem Charade is an interesting book. I think The Harlem Charade is unlike any other book I’ve read before. It provides a different type of action that everyone should put in a mystery book. I recommend this book for reader’s ages 10-12 because even though there is no death there is a lot of moments that would potentially scare younger readers.
The Harlem Charade is about three teenagers: Alex and Jin, who go to the same school, and Elvin, who was homeless until he met them. Elvin’s grandfat
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens-books
Three children in Harlem set out to solve a mystery. Jin, who has grown up in her adopted grandparents bodega, longs for some adventure to spice up her days. Alex is a girl who won’t talk about her family or her circumstances. She spends her days doing good deeds and working to feed those less fortunate. Elvin isn’t from Harlem, but has been sent there to stay with his grandfather. Unfortunately, his grandfather was attacked and is now hospitalized. The three start to investigate what happened t ...more
Jayce Senter
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Originally posted here at In the Senter of it All
A treasure hunt through the history of Harlem, this book is exciting and motivating. What a fantastic book! I loved it from the first page! I recently spoke to a friend who said, “I wish there were more books like this about different cities!” You learn the history of Harlem without feeling like it’s a history lesson, but an adventure.

SUMMARY: Jin, Elvin and Alex find themselves unraveling the secrets of the Invisible 7! Along the way the discove
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Review originally posted on

Jin's grandparents own a bodega in Harlem, and she likes to watch people from her out-of-the-way quiet nook and write her observations in a special notebook. Alex spends as much time as she can helping the needy in the neighborhood as she tries to hide the fact that her parents are ridiculously wealthy. Elvin was recently sent from California to New York to stay with the grandfather he didn't even know existed, and now his grandfather has been at
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this title suffers from a few plotting issues, it's an interesting mystery and an even more interesting look at an important neighborhood and time. This also speaks to the power and importance of art.

Jin has to do a school project on her neighborhood, and she's stumped. Several ideas appeal to her and then she comes across Alex, a mysterious girl who hands out free Metrocards and collects donations for a food pantry. Maybe they could do something about that? Adding Elvin (who's homeless
Katie Lawrence
Jan 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, children-s-books
This was a delightfully diverse story featuring 3 middle schoolers (plus 2 sidekicks) who band together to solve a mystery grounded in their community of Harlem and art history. I greatly enjoyed how Tarpley envelopes the reader in Harlem, the neighborhood truly is its own character, vibrant and dynamic. The friendship that develops between Elvin, Jin and Alex is finely wrought and complex. They each bring their own skills to solving the mystery and worked really well as a team ultimately. I lov ...more
Nov 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Reviewed for School Library Journal 11/1/2016.

Gr 4–6—What makes a community? What role does the past play in our present and future? These are the overarching questions posed in this Harlem-set mystery with its cast of three disparate seventh graders. Jin, who lives with her grandparents and helps run their bodega, is a keen observer of human nature and records all in her ever-present notebook. Alex, an extremely wealthy girl, spends her free time trying to help the disadvantaged, while being ru
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Want a middle grade book that exposes you to a different part of the country? This book is for you as you get to experience life in the community of Harlam, NY.

Three very different 12 yo, must track down the missing paintings, foil the evil politician and find out why Elvin's grandfather was attacked.

Wonderfully written, well-developed characters, great story, historical facts woven throughout. I listened to the audio version from my library (Libby) and the narrator had so many distinctive voic
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lis-510-complete
In the Harlem Charade, EVERYONE has a secret.

This story focuses on three kids in Harlem who team up to solve a mystery AND try to defeat a nefarious politician who’s planning on some very weird gentrification. Jin is Korean American and works after school at her family’s bodega. Alex is a young activist who strives to fight against her family’s wealthy lifestyle by collecting food for shelters and giving away metro cards undercover. Elvin is a young guy, displaced from his mother, alone and lost
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Harlem Charade tells a fast paced story of three unlikely friends coming together to solve a mystery in Harlem. Jin, Alex, and Elvin - a Korean girl who lives with her adopted grandparents and helps out at their bodega in Harlem, a wealthy white girl who is desperate to help those in need as a way to deny her life of privilege, and a skinny black boy whose alone in the city because his mother is receiving cancer treatments and his guardian grandfather has been mysteriously attacked in a neig ...more
A middle-grade mystery set in present day Harlem, New York. This story starts off by introducing three characters in turn, and then brings them together to solve the mystery. Jin is a Korean-American who lives with her grandparents, who run a bodega. Alex is a mysterious do-gooder who leaves metro cards around town for others to find. Elvin is a boy who has recently come to the city to live with his grandfather.
There are strange things going on in Harlem. There was a painting found in a garden.
Nominated for the 2017 Agatha for Best Children's/YA novel, this was an absolute delight! I thoroughly enjoyed the story, characters, and setting, and loved the joyful tone of the story. This novel explores the way a community defines itself, the power of art to show truth, and what it really means to be home. The story centers around three strangers who become friends -- Jin, Alex, and Elvin -- and amateur sleuths. The three join forces to find out what happened to Elvin's grandfather, which le ...more
Joni Harris
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
While this book was slow start, it picks up about one-third into the book.

The three main characters, Jin, Alex, and Elvin, are strong middle school age characters that are on a mission to find missing artwork, the person that has attacked Elvin's grandfather, and to save their community. Their adventures are very fun to read about, and some of the chapters are cliff hangers. The three are always finding clues to put together, but I wish there had been more so that the reader could more easily f
Kristina Sawyer
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The author came to visit our school today and I loved hearing and be able to share her perspectives and writing with my 3rd and 4th graders. She is well-spoken, well educated and writes about her genuine experiences in way that allows my diverse students to all connect with and be inspired by her perspective and the content. She spoke about not seeing herself represented in the books she was reading as a girl and I love that my student are now able to see themselves because of her work and advoc ...more
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took a few chapters for me to get interested, but as the plot developed, I was hooked! The relationships between characters develop with the story in a believable way. I like the variety of characters, too. As a story about relationships, and a girl who loves to take notes about people, this would be a good companion to Harriet the Spy. As a book about the power of art and the Harlem Renaissance (or more like Harlem in the 60’s), this would go nicely with Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance. As a my ...more
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You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
27 likes · 10 comments
“The fact that [Jin] didn't know her mother was simply that, another fact. Her mother leaving her was like the breath that singers take at the beginning of a song. Just a thing that happened before her real life began.” 0 likes
“Everyone is invisible to someone.” 0 likes
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