MASTERPIECE; Elise Broach; New York: Henry Holt, 2008; 291pp.
In spite of the rave advance reviews for this book, I was underwhelmed by it, although it may well be one of those stories that kids like better than adults, which would be all to the good. And, in fact, it is a good story about friendship--in this case, the friendship between a boy named James and a beetle named Marvin. Marvin and his family live under the sink in James' house and feel sorry for James because his mother and stepfather (the Pompadays) are too snooty and busy to pay much attention to James. When James' father, an artist, gives him a pen and ink set for his birthday, Marvin wants to give him a gift, too, so he dips his legs into a cap of ink anddraws a stunning miniature of the view outside the apartment. James is delighted by the gift, but uncertain as to what to do when everyone thinks he drew it. Marvin and James' friendship is tested and strengthened as James is asked to replicate a drawing by Albrecht Durer to be used in an FBI sting operation, and when the setup goes South, is saved from a horrible fate by Marvin's quick thinking and nonverbal communication abilities. The talking beetle aspect of this story is easy to swallow (you'll excuse the expression), but the improbabilities of a 10-year old boy being asked to participate in an elaborate forgery scheme, of a beetle being able to reproduce a Durer in one hour's time without dragging all his legs through the ink make this a kind of "hey, wait a minute" story. On the other hand, it is a well-written, suspenseful, fun, and exciting, and filled with good stuff about using one's talents and being a true friend. I think the kids will like it, even though the beetle looks more like an ant.