Masterpiece

Name the last book you read where the animal was the main character. Fairly easy, right? Think about the animal: what was it… dog? cat? bird? beetle?

Yup. The main character, for the most part, of Masterpiece is a beetle. Named Marvin. And, honestly, he’s so charming and adorable and… can a beetle be cute?… that it totally carries the book.

Marvin and his extended family live in the Manhattan apartment of the Pompadays: James, 11 years old, his mother, stepfather and baby brother. Marvin has a carefree life (for a beetle): learning to swim in a bottle cap, weekend excursions to the solarium, feasts of PopTarts. Then, on James’s birthday, he is given a pen-and-ink set from his father (who’s an artist). Marvin, wishing to give James something, draws a line drawing of the scene outside James’s window. Which sets off a chain events that eventually involves the work of 16th-century artist Albrecht Durer, a theft, a bunch of lies and a budding romance.

As I said before, it’s Marvin that makes the book worth reading. I was totally and completely charmed by Elise Broach’s imagining of the beetle world, from the descriptions of their house, to the adventures in the solarium, to the everyday workings of staying alive. (The best line, and I’ll have to paraphrase, was during a conversation between Marvin and his parents talking about divorce. Marvin asks why beetles don’t get divorced. His mother says something to the effect of, “Well, our lives are so short, we just want to live them happily and to the fullest.” She pauses, and adds, “Plus, beetles don’t have lawyers.”)

It’s also a book about friendship, as Marvin and James have to learn to communicate, trust each other, and work together. They form a unique bond (are there any other human-beetle pairings out there?) and manage to surpass the prejudices of Marvin’s family, as well as the human tendency to be repulsed at the little scurrying things. I enjoyed the friendship they built. In addition, I thought the resolution was completely plausible; Broach didn’t throw some sympathetic adult in the end, someone who would understand James’s relationship with a bug. James completely figure out how to solve the problem on his own, and managed to keep his relationship with Marvin intact in the process.

It’s not a perfect book, by any means. But there’s so much that’s charming about it that I willingly made it through the slow parts and the art lectures in order to experience more of Marvin’s world. Because it’s a completely captivating one.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

8 thoughts on “Masterpiece

  1. Michelle — you know, I’ve never thought of doing that, mostly because every reader is different, and what one reader can read/handle at 8, another one can’t until 10 or 11. But, it’s a good idea to give a general age frame. I’m not going to go back, but I’ll start from here, ‘kay? I think Masterpiece is probably good for 10 and up. 8 or 9 for a precocious reader. It’s not content in this book, but rather length and word choice. πŸ™‚

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