The Gallery

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Gallery Book Poster Image
Engaging 1929 mystery for tween historical fiction fans.

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Kids say

age 9+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Names of a few famous artists and brief descriptions of their work. Explanation of some art-appreciation terms such as "still life" and "realism." Some French cooking vocabulary. Sacco and Vanzetti case briefly explained along with then-prominent prejudice against Italians. Some causes of the stock market crash of 1929. Some chemistry about various sodium compounds and how to identify them; a few terms such as "precipitate" defined. The Roman myth about Proserpina and the biblical story of Judith briefly told. Author's note includes more details about real paintings, the stock market crash, Sacco and Vanzetti, and more.

Positive Messages

Even kids can start big changes, sometimes with something as simple as believing. The world has always been full of bad things, and it's our job to fight them and to tell the truth. By doing those things we make sure dark times always give way to light. A couple of negative examples include mention of a fear of Italian anarchists that was prominent at the time, as well as a couple of sexist remarks from the villain about women recently getting the right to vote. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Martha takes good care of her younger brothers. She doesn't do well in school, sometimes skipping classes and asking too many questions, so she gets suspended. She works hard at her job. When she sees someone being treated unfairly, she tries to help. She models investigating and research when she wants to know more about something. Her father is mostly absent and exhibits alcoholic behavior but is loving when he's present. Martha's mother is strict but fair, and she and Martha have a good relationship.

Violence

Central mystery involves a woman who's captive in her own home and possibly poisoned so she'll seem crazy. Past bomb explosions mentioned; one happens nearby, but no one is hurt. Shooting BB guns as a possible activity. Tommy guns in a gangster movie mentioned. Mention that a neighbor and known gangster has been shot. Fruit juice and seeds looking like blood mentioned a few times.

Sex

Two adults kiss "like Rudolph Valentino." Occasional mention of nude figures in paintings. "Curse of Eve" mentioned as a term for menstruation.

Language

"Poo." A newspaper headline uses "wop."

Consumerism

Occasional old-fashioned products mentioned to set the scene, still available today, include Murphy Oil Soap, Brasso, Kotex, and Jell-O.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Absentee father exhibits alcoholic behavior, reforms and has a positive outcome; Martha has to sober him up once. A lavish party mentions copious amounts of illegal (in 1929) alcohol and excessive drinking by guests, including Babe Ruth passed out under a piano. Kids follow drunks to see if they accidentally drop pennies. Kids eat beer-splashed peanuts from a saloon. Prohibition-era setting includes several mentions of speakeasies. The cook frequently sneaks nips of cooking wine. Mention of teen boys wanting to make their own gin. The villain drinks something alcoholic in one gulp. A mental patient is given a sedative by injection. A man is possibly poisoning his wife. Narrator says she had cancer of the larynx and advises "don't smoke." Rare mention of minor or background characters smoking. Providing empty ashtrays at a party mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Gallery is another mystery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Under the Egg), this time set in New York in 1929 and skewing to a slightly older tween and middle-grade audience. The two books have some common themes, but the stories are completely separate. The mystery surrounds a woman who seems to be a prisoner in her own home and whose husband may be trying to drive her insane by poisoning her. The Roaring Twenties setting includes many references to alcohol, and Martha's father shows alcoholic and drunken behavior. Other content is mild, but there are several references and a minor plot point involving the prevailing prejudice in the United States against Italians at that time and a newspaper headline that uses the ethnic slur "wop." Art history is another prominent theme, and kids will learn about some famous painters, symbolism in art, and art appreciation in general, although there's not as much detail about that as there was in Under the Egg.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old May 28, 2017

Great Book

I think that this book is a great tween book! It involves the perfect amount of mystery! A total hit! The only thing is that it involves her brothers trying t... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1929, Martha is 12 years old and not doing well in school. So her mother gets her a job as a maid in the grand Fifth Avenue mansion where her mother is housekeeper. Martha learns that Rose, the lady of the house, never leaves her room, eats exactly the same thing every day, and spends most of her time rummaging through her collection of paintings by some of the world's greatest artists. Every now and then, Rose sends a few paintings to hang on the walls downstairs. The more Martha learns about the paintings, the more she gets the feeling Rose is trying to communicate something to the outside world. Just about everyone in that mansion is hiding something, and Martha is determined to learn the truth about THE GALLERY.

Is it any good?

Laura Marx Fitzgerald has created another engaging story that historical fiction and mystery lovers alike will enjoy. Tweens especially will relate to Martha's admirable pluck as she gets to the bottom of things. They'll also learn a bit about classical and modern painting and about the stock market crash that started the Great Depression.

The plot is well structured, with lots of intrigue that keeps the pages turning. The characters are colorful and well developed. Tweens will enjoy immersing themselves in the height of the Roaring Twenties. Fans of Under the Egg are sure to enjoy a new story and setting that still offer mystery, intrigue, and a smart girl getting to the bottom of it all. There's not a lot of depth here, but it's a fun way to expose young fans of historical fiction and mystery to a time and place they may not know much about.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how much more we know about smoking and drinking today than people did in the 1920s. Did you know about Prohibition, when drinking alcohol was illegal in the U.S., before you read this book?

  • Would you like to see any of the paintings that Martha saw? Which ones were the most interesting or the hardest to picture? Search online, or go to your local or school library, where you can find lots of books, images, and information about the paintings and the artists.

  • Did you read the author's note about Sacco and Vanzetti? What about their story could almost be taken from today's headlines?

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