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The Jewel and the Key: Louise Spiegler

Book: The Jewel and the Key
Author:  Louise Spiegler
Pages: 464
Age Range: 12 and up

Jewel I'm a sucker for time travel stories. They always make me think. Louise Spiegler's The Jewel and the Key is a young adult novel that reads more as a hybrid historical/contemporary novel than as a fantasy, but does rely on time travel. And it definitely made me think. The Jewel and the Key is well-written and intriguing, a much faster read than its 464 pages would suggest.

The Jewel and the Key is about a theater-struck high school girl named Addie whose fortunes become entwined with those of a historic, crumbling Seattle theater called the Jewel. To say much more about the plot would, I think, risk spoiling the story. Suffice it to say that The Jewel and the Key explores people's reactions to modern-day war as well as to World War I. There are insider looks at high school drama departments as well as theaters of the early 1900s. There are first loves and brave actions. There is an earthquake. And at the center of it all are Addie and the Jewel, and the key that brings everything together.

Louise Spiegler does a nice job with characterization and relationships in The Jewel and the Key, no small task in that there are two distinct casts of characters. I especially liked Addie's relationship with her friend Whaley. They're like siblings, except not. They have each other's backs, but they also fight, and they have a core difference in viewpoint regarding the military. Addie is quick-witted and determined to help people, though not always displaying the best judgement. And I love that she and her family live above the bookstore that her dad owns.

But where Spiegler (a history teacher) really shines is in her ability to make historical scenes come alive. Her vision of 1917 Seattle feels authentic right down to the smells, sounds, and tastes. Like this:

The military band's music roared to a crescendo. Someone started signing "Over There," and other voices joined in. Close by, a bell tolled, and a man with a bullhorn came through the station, shouting, "Then-thirty to San Francisco, arriving track one... Ten-thirty, arriving track one!"

All around them, people began streaming onto the platform. Women threw their arms around men in uniform. Older men slapped their backs. Children tugged their leg.s" (Page 400)

The plotting in The Jewel and Key is also strong, with puzzles to work out, and a variety of tense and exciting events taking place. I did find a couple of plot points a bit convenient (like families owning the same homes for a hundred years, and Addie happening to be wearing old clothing when she inadvertently time travels), but I suppose that's what it takes to make a two-sided jigsaw puzzle of a novel like this work. I also found it implausible that it took Addie as long as it did to catch on to what was going on. But I suppose that a person experiencing time travel would expect it a lot less than a person knowingly reading a novel. So I'll cut her some slack.

Overall, I thought that The Jewel and the Key was well-done. I read it in a day, because I simply couldn't put it down. I learned a little bit about Seattle, and quite a lot about the US response to World War I. I also enjoyed the insider view of the theater. The Jewel and the Key should please theater buffs, anyone who enjoys historical novels, and those, like me, who find the idea of time travel intriguing.

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: August 29, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.