Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

This cutesy story with a bit of mystery and a breezy style is about a family with 2 tweens who move into a new home when their father gets a new job as professor of Shakespearean literature. Their daughter, Hero, (named after a character in Much Ado about Nothing) meets the new, elderly neighbor who starts her on a quest for a diamond that she is sure is hidden in Hero's new home. The diamond happened to have been owned by Anne Boleyn.

I wanted to like this book, and when the author quoted Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas, it was filled with promise.

Then the irony kicked in. One of the characters makes the accusation to Hero that she and her generation know nothing of English Literature. Meanwhile, this author demonstrates a dim and narrow knowledge of the history she is fond of weaving into her story.

We are presented with a character who gushes matter-of-factly that Queen Elizabeth was "the greatest Queen of England." Completely absent is the mention that her crown may have been tarnished a bit by her ardent repression, persecution and intolerance of Catholics unlucky enough to be trying to practice their faith under her reign.

Then, comes the presentation of the idea that Henry the VIII presents the above-mentioned diamond in a necklace to Anne Boleyn, to placate her while waiting for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Of course, the fact that in order to procure this "annulment" Henry had to hijack the church, claim the authority of the pope, and murder St. Thomas More is conspicuously absent as well.

Anne Boleyn, we learn from this author, is a brave, noble, amazing woman. This is based on an impressive speech she gives at her death which is related in the book. Her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon, who by all accounts conducted her life in a noble manner, was beloved by her people, and did not scheme for the throne, commit adultery on the way there and be complicit in letting the original wife lose everything, does not merit a single adjective. Catherine gets the brush-off as a side note as we pay starry-eyed tribute to poor Anne.

So.. subsequently, it is no big surprise when the neighbor reveals that she was married for 19 years to the man whose house Hero now lives in, and they segue easily into a friendly divorce whereby she befriends the new wife in a happily-ever-after.

I was actually thinking mid-book that maybe with a history lesson this would be a valuable book in teaching our tweens how to read with a critical eye. But I'm afraid that parents would have too much work on their hands. If you're trying to teach a sacramental view of marriage, you might not want to parade too many characters in front of your children that have a casual acceptance of serial monogamy. The cool, debonair boy who teams up with Hero also has the mother who ran away. This boy sneaks into his police-chief dad's office with Hero to look up a file and casually lies when he gets caught. The elderly neighbor corrects him about lying and cautions him not to vandalize a bathroom at Hero's school. The next chapter, he vandalizes it. He spray-paints black paint over comments that were made about Hero. When the principal confronts Hero, she points out that if Hero had come to her, the school would have dealt with it instead of having extra problems in dealing with the paint. The principal, though, is portrayed as strident and unsympathetic, while Hero goes gaa-gaa over this boy doing such a "gallant" thing for her.

The word, wanton is described for children as "sleeping around." I like the description, "wanton," myself. The graffiti written about Hero in the bathroom is not described but only the most naive tween could miss that it was clearly very pornographic and crude. And then, we have the situation when cool-kid Dan is told that Hero went to church (another little white lie, anyway) and he laughs at the idea. Hero is not my hero.

This book gets my DaVinci Code rating: the fun read isn't worth the damage done...

When you see this book on the library's list of recommended, I'd cross it off unless you're feeling up to a lot of damage control...

Safety Rating: Davinci Pile


Anonymous,  April 3, 2009 at 12:32 PM  

You're right Kim. I've read this book before and have never picked up on that. Good job.

Anonymous,  April 3, 2009 at 5:27 PM  

Thanks for the 'heads-up' on this one; Love the blog btw! :)

Anonymous,  April 4, 2009 at 2:20 AM  

I thoroughly agree with this review, and what's the book got to do with Shakespeare anyway?

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