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Monday, August 7, 2017

"The Metropolitans" by Carol Goodman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: The day Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, four thirteen-year-olds converge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where an eccentric curator is seeking four uncommonly brave souls to track down the hidden pages of the Kelmsbury Manuscript, an ancient book of Arthurian legends that lies scattered within the museum's collection, and that holds the key to preventing a second attack on American soil.

When Madge, Joe, Kiku, and Walt agree to help, they have no idea that the Kelmsbury is already working its magic on them. But they begin to develop extraordinary powers and experience the feelings of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Lancelot: courage, friendship, love...and betrayal. Are they playing out a legend that's already been lived, over and over, across the ages? Or can the Metropolitans forge their own story?"

FORMAT: The Metropolitans is a standalone children's novel. It is a blend of historical fiction, mystery and fantasy. It stands at 368 pages and was published March 14, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: I have always enjoyed middle school/children's mystery/puzzle/adventure novels. When I saw The Metropolitans was being compared to The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler with a National Treasure twist, I was super excited. Unfortunately, the book had a few too many unbelievable parts to it that I was unable to really enjoy the novel.

Essentially, The Metropolitans tells the story of 4 13-year old children during World War II who through some twist of fate end up together and working towards a common goal. That goal is to help divert a potential Nazi attack on New York City. The only way to prevent the attack is to run around the Metropolitan Museum of Art finding pages from a mysterious manuscript that will help them decode a message from a known enemy spy.

While working to prevent the attack, the children start developing these weird powers that seem like they are straight out of Arthurian legend. Throughout the story, the children learn more about their powers while exploring some of the pressing issues of the time (such as Japanese internment camps, mistreatment of Native Americans, homeless in the city, and the loss of family due to death).

On the outside, it looks like this novel might turn out to be something wonderful and even fun to read. There were just too many distracting aspects of the novel that really prevented this novel from being all that it could be.

The first distracting aspect of The Metropolitans was the overuse of 1940s slang by one character. I fully understand that times change and terms that are used in the 40s, such as malarkey, hunky dory, swell) would seem awkward today, but this just seemed forced. Only one character in the entire book used this slang language and each and every time she spoke she used it. I found it difficult to believe that these terms would be so widely used that they would be used by one character every time she opened her mouth, yet not one of the other characters ever uttered these time-specific terms.

Another distracting aspect was the instant friendship between the four main characters. In a children's novel I understand there isn't a whole lot of time to devote to developing friendships, but this novel took quick friendships to the extreme. Literally, within a matter of an hour or two, all the characters went from complete strangers who had never seen each other, never interacted and they became best friends forever.

The main characters practically could not live without the thought that they wouldn't be friends. This was only after 4 hours of knowing each other. They instantly took each other in to their houses, vowed to remain friends forever, and do whatever they could to help each other. It was just unbelievable.

Of course, it could be argued that their instant friendship was because they were the legends of Arthur reincarnated into the 40s. But their instant friendship happened before this occurred, wasn't really touched upon as odd, and was just left out there for readers to accept.

Lastly, the other main issue I had was the grab bag of diversity, as I would call it. The four main characters include a Japanese-American girl who is facing discrimination because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and forced to deal with the hatred and issues that came up during the 40s, a Native American boy who was taken from his family and not allowed to really embrace his culture, a Jewish boy from Germany who ran from Hitler leaving his family behind and saw people die in the streets, and an Irish-American girl who lost her mother to illness and was forced to move in with her aunt while her brothers were sent to an orphanage because her dad had some mental breakdown and decided to be homeless.

I am all for diversity in novels especially children's novel. This, however, seemed extreme and unbelievable. The fact that every individual from every culture was magically represented seemed a bit too far-fetched for me to believe. Throw in the fact that conveniently each character had some catastrophic past that neatly addressed the issues of that time period and it took it to the completely unbelievable zone.

The overreach with diversity and issues served as a major drawback. There was so much going on and so many issues the author tried to cover that I don't feel any issue, from the horrors people saw in Germany to the hatred of anyone who looked Japanese just because of what happened with Pearl Harbor,  was properly covered. It all seemed glossed over.

There were other issues with The Metropolitans that really took away from the novel, but they weren't as big of an issue for me as the three I explored above. Other issues included the rather clunky transition and use of Arthurian legend (it seemed forced and a bit difficult to understand exactly what happened as the novel was a mystery and then all of a sudden there are super powers and its fantasy), the lack of care or concern most adults showed in the novel, the fact 13 year olds just ran around the city hailing cabs and running all over the place during a national crisis, the 'seeing the light' moment that caused one character's father to stop drinking and living on the streets and become responsible, and the overuse of the ring-a-levio phrase that seemed to appear 3 to 5 times every chapter.

I will say that I did enjoy the setting. It was fun to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art and hear about some of its exhibits.

Overall, I believe that The Metropolitans easily blends in with almost any other children's novel out there. It doesn't stand out in any way, shape or form, and has far too many unbelievable moments and underdeveloped plot points to make it an outstanding novel. That doesn't mean it won't be for you, but if you are looking for a book that will 'wow' you or really give the Arthurian legends a new spin, this probably won't help you.



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