Recommendation: Shakespeare's Secret
February 13, 2006
This weekend I read Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach, recommended to me by my friend Alex and her daughter. The book is about a girl named Hero (named after a character in Much Ado About Nothing), who moves to a small town near Washington, DC. There, Hero becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a missing diamond and a potential link between Anne Boleyn and Edward De Vere (thought by many to be the true, secret author of Shakespeare's plays). I enjoyed the historical detail of this book, and also the strong friendship that develops between Hero and the older woman who lives next door, Mrs. Roth.
One thing I struggled with regarding this book was what age range would enjoy it. I borrowed it from the Santa Clara City Library, where it was classified as a young adult book. My first instinct was to disagree with this. Shakespeare's Secret is a relatively quick and easy read. It's also quite light as mysteries go (no murder, no physical danger). However, I can see why librarians would classify it as a young adult book. There are references to illegitimate children, and suggestive comments are written in the boy's bathroom (though the exact nature of the comments is not spelled out). Still, I personally think that the book is most suitable for 9 to 12 year olds who like mysteries, rather than for teenagers. I don't think that it holds up as well as a children's book for adults, unless they happen to be Shakespeare buffs. I saw the "twist" coming well in advance. (Of course, I read a lot!)
Overall, I think that this is a great choice for the early middle school reader who likes mysteries. I don't think that the adolescent interactions ring quite as true as those in two other books that I've read recently: Down the Rabbit Hole : An Echo Falls Mystery and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Book One. However, I did like the voice of Hero very much (moody and pessimistic, but able to get excited over solving a Shakespearean mystery). And it's refreshing to see a story in which the heroine has a stable family behind her (have you noticed how orphan-hood almost seems a requirement in books some days?). And I love books that get kids thinking about other books. So I recommend this one. Happy Reading! -- Jen