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The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (The Young Inventors Guild #1)

 
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The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (The Young Inventors Guild #1)
Age Range
8+
Release Date
March 15, 2011
ISBN
1610880021
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In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world’s most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had. But all that changed the day the men in black arrived. They arrived to take twelve-year-old Jasper Modest and his six-year-old sister, Lucy—he with his remarkable creations and she with her perfect memory—from their London, England home to a place across the ocean they’d never seen before. They arrived to take nine-year-old Wallace Banneker, last in a long line of Africa-descended scientists, from his chemistry, his father, and his New York home to a life he’d never imagined. Twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas, already missing his world-famous and beloved mother, was taken from Toronto, Canada, carrying only his clothes, his violin, and his remarkable mind. And thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta, the genius daughter of India’s wealthiest and most accomplished scientists, was removed by force from her life of luxury. From all across the world, they’ve been taken to mysterious Sole Manner Farm, and a beautiful but isolated schoolhouse in Dayton, Ohio, without a word from their parents as to why. Not even the wonderful schoolteacher they find there, Miss Brett, can explain it. She can give them love and care, but she can’t give them answers. Things only get stranger from there. What is the book with no pages Jasper and Lucy find in their mother’s underwear drawer, and why do the men in black want it so badly? How is it all the children have been taught the same bizarre poem—and yet no other rhymes or stories their entire lives? And why haven’t their parents tried to contact them? Whatever the reasons, to brash, impetuous Faye, the situation is clear: They and their parents have been kidnapped by these terrible men in black, and the only way they’re going to escape and rescue their parents is by completing the invention they didn’t even know they were all working on—an invention that will change the world forever. But what if the men in black aren’t trying to harm the children? What if they’re trying to protect them? And if they’re trying to protect them—from what? An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or the Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, the first book of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy, is a truly original novel. Young readers will forever treasure Eden Unger Bowditch’s funny, inventive, poignant, and wonderfully fun fiction debut.

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A remarkable group of young inventors change the course of history (and eat lots of nice food)
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4.0
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In The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch, a group of remarkable children must become masters and mistresses of their own fates, while inexplicable, somewhat vague grown-ups hover around the edges. (Sound familiar? I suspect many children, even if more prosaically, experience the world in a similar way.) In this intricately plotted, well-written novel, the five main characters -- Jasper, Lucy, Wallace, Faye and Noah -- are not just any old kids, but rather the remarkably intelligent sons and daughters of scientists (and one opera singer). Under the most puzzling of circumstances, they are separated from their parents, kept prisoneralthough in very friendly places, with glorious food, soft beds and kind nannies and a sympathetic teacherby the truly mysterious Men in Black.

The Men in Black are literally dressed in black, but in this world, that means way more than black trousers and tops; it means black inner-tubes, feathered bonnets, velvet capes, lace ruffs, fluffy ear muffs and fur boots. This whimsical touchthat each man in black is distinguishable from every other by some strange quirk of clothingadds humor, but also a sense of the unreal. It seems impossible that such oddly-dressed, silent men could have so much power, yet they have taken and hidden the childrens parents (perhaps keeping them working on a secret scientific project), and have placed the children in the hands of strangers.

What the Men in Black may or may not be counting on is that the children are scientists themselves, engineers and chemists and inventors. Although all five are from very different worlds, after they are thrust together and faced with a common enemy, they learn to work together and together, they invent something remarkable they could none have them invented on their own.

The book is written in a slightly old-fashioned style that suits its setting (the beginning of the twentieth century), and there were passages where the writing truly soared. This is a story that could only be told from multiple perspectives, and yet the hopping from one childs story to another to another did sometimes keep the reader at an emotional distance. The book starts a bit slowly, but truly hits its stride in the last third, when all the stories come together into a whole and the children work as one force to outwit those forces opposing them. The threads left untied at the end are of the ooh, I wonder what happens next variety (so different from the argh, what just happened kind of ending). Its an ambitious and complex story -- and if it does not quite live up to its promise, neither does it disappoint.

The design is very appealing as well (I particularly loved the gears-and-compasses font used in the chapter headings) and the book is as satisfying to look at as it is to read. The Atomic Weight of Secrets is very likely to appeal to those who loved The Mysterious Benedict Society (which is in some ways, a very similar book), and I for one am looking forward to the next installment.
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Recommend to Mysterious Benedict Society Fans
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4.0
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This book reminded me from the first pages of the Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart (which incidentally are quite delightful). Although different in some aspects, they share the group of young people of immeasurable intelligence, all with their own skill to bring to the task at hand. Fans of the Mysterious Benedict Society should read this now! Non-fans should read both!

Every chapter title begins with a title and then an alternative title, just like book does. Part of me thinks that using this device in modern books is a bit pompous, but another part thinks that it's really awesome, so... Anyway, this method does work pretty well, given the historical fiction setting (late nineteenth century). Watch out for the cameo by some historical figures; it was clever and a bit unexpected.

The only weakness of the book is the nebulousness of the forces of evil. Nothing is really resolved or figured out at the end of the novel. Since this is the first in the series, this does not necessarily doom the book. The men in black are figures of menace (maybe?) throughout the book, but only sort of. There is a limit to how menacing people can be while dressed thus:

"Actually, there were two waiting carriages, one driven by a man wearing dark glasses, a black cape, and a bullfighter's hat that appeared to have actual horns coming out of either side, the other by a driver who seemed to be so short that he's have a hard time seeing over the knee guard on the coachman's seat. That said, his hat was so tall it seemed it would stretch higher than the man himself, is they were placed side by side. Like his fluffy jumper and ballooning trousers, the hat was black. His glasses, or rather goggles, were black, too." (58)

The Atomic Weight of Secrets is wonderfully written and a joy to read. It's in stores and libraries now, so look for it! I will be waiting impatiently for book two.
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