The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

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The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A perfect mystery wrapped up in perfectly mysterious surroundings, provides for an adventure thriller for the 9-13 year old audience that certainly is by no means all gimmick and shallow tricksiness.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd
ISBN: 978-0746090923

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Sometimes, you know, this task could be a lot easier. I always have it in the back of my mind that I might be giving too much away about a book's plot – I like to give at least a firm inkling about what might happen at the start, and a selection of the nice things I liked and found distinctive, if at all possible. Here, though, there is so much I am just not able to mention about this book.

For one, I cannot tell you what it is called, clearly – it's a secret. I am under the impression that the author's name might just not be a real person's name. The book as it is is only presented to us because, although the contents are so dangerously shocking, life-changing and world-affecting, the author just cannot keep a secret. All attempt is made at putting us off reading, without being aware of what the consequences might be. All the same, we don't know where it happens, when it happens (although it starts on a Wednesday), nor even the characters' real names.

As such I will probably be putting my neck on the block in some quarters by saying the heroine of the book is called here Cass, an eleven year old schoolgirl, with sticky-out ears, who lives alone with her mum but spends a lot of time with two surrogate granddads and their blind dog in an antique shop (a very risky place for a blind dog to be employed, you would think…) Like the original Cassandra, this one too has a head full of doom-and-gloom prophesies, and is united through one with Max-Ernest, a shrimpy nerdish young brainbox of a lad whose living arrangements are even more odd.

Cass is able to find something very rum, and the pair go to somewhere very unusual, and lots of funny peculiar things happen, and that's all you'll get from me – I value my life too much.

I know what you're thinking, regarding the not-letting-on, keeping the contents of the book under seal shtick – gimmick. Well, it's a gimmick that had me falling for it hook, line and sinker, and the tome rested for several days waiting in my inbox before it even crossed my mind. It is also a conceit that will certainly appeal to the target browser – and has allowed for copious viral-style websites and whatnots. It's very pleasing to say it's very well sustained, as well, with the narrator, whoever he, she or it might be, editorialising with a finely judged presence, as interjections are made, caution is advised, and footnotes offer up more instances of the lovely humour to be found. Only very briefly does it appear to be filler, padding out the mysteries within, and that's from a more jaded opinion than the reader of the right age should have.

It was clear to me from fairly on that the contents of the book revolved around synaesthesia, but that won't be completely apparent to the young reader who might not even manage to pronounce it (it's like anaesthesia, but with sin at the beginning, we're handily informed). All the same I had absolutely no clue as to what the plot was going to do with it, or where it would take Cass and everyone – blind dog included.

It also became evident fairly early on that this is an American book, which was a bit unfortunate for me. Not for any dubious racial reasons, but we are invited to believe the streets, school and town the book inhabits are our own, and when Americanisms (only slight ones, but noticeable, like probate realtor and what have you) come up, that jars. I wish there had been a brilliant editor to Anglicise the book, although when the state of Colourado comes up I wonder if I'm not expecting too much. If fuss about one of the granddads speaking British English and not American had not been made I might even have not noticed.

Still, the main point of any review here is that the book does successfully branch away from the tricksy subterfuge the gimmick suggests, and launches the reader into a perfectly paced world of wonder. I can't say the whole thing smacks of the utmost realism, but the more mind-bending elements are on a par most welcomingly with the more novel instances of the book withdrawing its own narration from us. I was certainly thrown several times by the imagination of whoever-it-is, with their plotting, sorry, honest, afeared reportage.

It's a quirky chunk of a book – 400 pages, that rattle by with their large print and their sheer bravura inventiveness. If it loses out anywhere it is in the jarring I felt with the Americanisms stopping the complete universality of the story, the more way-out scenes, such as the place(s) Cass ends up in in the second half, the ease with which I solved the first couple of word puzzles (if not what they ultimately meant), and the twinge of doubt that on rare occasion the delaying elements of the narration were going too far, and disguising what was in effect not the ending I was after.

None of that will be evident to the reader in the correct age range – I'd guess at 9-13, and for them the book will be an enjoyable mystery to be lapped up at least once. I'd strongly recommend the book, and will make no secret of that fact.

I'd like to thank Usborne for sending the Bookbag a review copy.

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