The Sixty-Eight Rooms is a fantastic book for middle grade readers who like their stories fantastic and fun. A healthy imagination is a definite bonus when it comes to this novel by Marianne Malone. Greg Call provides nifty illustrations throughout the book that will appeal to reluctant readers. The action he captures in his drawings reflect the adventure that waits within.
Though this is the author’s first book, the lack of experience doesn’t show. She propels the story from the first sentence with firm confidence and endearing characters. I enjoyed Jack and Ruthie a lot, and I do hope they get together for another adventure, as the ending of the book seems to suggest. They make a fine team and the friendship between them feels right.
The problems the two encounter don’t just stop with the mysteries involving the Thorne Rooms. They have to outwit their parents and deal with Jack’s possible home eviction if things don’t turn around for the family. Though the parents have to deal with events themselves, they remain supportive of Jack and Ruthie, though they would definitely have vetoed the two kids’ decision to stay in the museum for the night to explore the Sixty-Eight Rooms.
After reading this book, I really want to see the mysterious rooms for myself. They’re housed in the Children’s Galleries of the Chicago Art Institute. I’d never heard of them previously, but now I’ll never forget them.
The author introduces magic to the story, and a way for Jack and Ruthie to travel back in time to various places and dates in a way that is gentle and fun. There’s no talk of science here. This is pure escapism, and Marianne Malone makes the most of it for her young audience.
When the magic key Jack discovers displays an astonishing ability to shrink Ruthie down to five inches tall, the whole world changes around them. Especially when Jack shrinks down as well. Easy tasks, like peering into the Sixty-Eight Rooms, are almost impossible, but I loved the duct tape ladder that Jack devises!
However, there are also dangers that come out of the shadows at night. Cockroaches are now fierce monsters, and mice are predators. Then there’s the tension about whether the security guards will catch them.
I read and enjoyed the book a lot. The author keeps the pace going along nicely, and there’s always a hint of mystery lurking around. I kept expecting them to find the letters that the young girl in France had written them, but they never popped up. Maybe next book.
This is definitely a book juvenile girls will relish, but there’s enough mystery and magic and Jack to keep a boy turning pages as well. I’m looking forward to Marianne Malone’s next book.