The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald takes place in the roaring ’20s and follows the life of a young girl who goes into service with her mother and the mystery she uncovers along the way. The novel feature real-life historical events and many famous figures.
When Martha gets expelled from school, her mother snags her a job working alongside her as a maid for one of the wealthiest families in New York. But underneath all the glitz and glamour of the house, suspicious things are happening. The head of the house, Mr. Sewell, keeps dining with mysterious guests late into the night and his ailing wife, Rose, is said to be crazy and is confined to a room on the uppermost floor, surrounding by her gallery of famous paintings that she refuses to be parted with.
The longer Martha works in the house, the more she begins to suspect that perhaps Rose isn’t crazy after all. And what is with the paintings that are being displayed downstairs? Are they code for something more? And can Martha solve this mystery or will she be fired in the process?
I really liked the setting for this book. The ‘2os is such an interesting moment in history. This story centers on the prohibition period, right before and a little after Herbert Hoover is elected president. I enjoyed the upstairs/downstairs elements, where Martha travels between being a maid to observing how the rich live. Her life is so different from theirs in more ways than one! She’s the daughter of immigrants from Ireland, with a mostly absent father, and between her mom and her, they barely make ends meet.
Still, Martha’s curiosity and desire to do right by others has her hunting down the mystery of Rose’s seeming captivity. She has a strong will and is quite tenacious. She’s affronted when she’s looked down on, either for being poor or for not knowing something, and I admire her for standing up for herself.
I think I liked most the narration of this book. Martha is an excellent character, and her life, even without her detecting on the side, is quite interesting and her observations are really keen and astute. I also particularly liked the art history woven into this story. Being an artist on the side, I’ve always had a fascination with art and I really loved that Fitzgerald used paintings and history as clues to solving the mystery. It was really cool and I think young readers will really fall into the story.
Literary Value: 4/5
Fitzgerald’s storytelling is on point in this book. I read her other book, Under the Egg, and I liked it, but I think she’s really hit her stride with this book. The characters are a varied bunch, each with interesting backstories and voices, and I loved getting to know them and see them interact with each other.
I also felt the weaving of real-life events and the fictional story taking place alongside it was really well done. I never felt any moment in the story was dry or merely a recitation of facts. Martha kept things light in her narrative voice and her life, though that of a maid, never felt monotonous or slowed down the story. With such a nice pace, I read this book fairly quickly, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I especially liked that the mystery was not of the usual kind. It was straightforward and yet it was unique in the way that it all unfolded. It ended up being more of a rescue mission story, which I think made the story exciting and adventurous, despite it all happening within the confines of a mansion.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
For being mostly a slice of life story, I found myself really compelled by this story. I put it mostly down to the fact that Martha is an excellent narrator. Even though she is young and doesn’t have a whole lot of knowledge about the wider world, she comes across as mature (at moments, at others you can definitely see the young girl in her), and responsible. She holds herself accountable to rescue Rose from her fate of being locked away and she cares deeply about the well-being of her family.
The mystery, especially that it was wrapped up in art and ’20s history, was really fascinating and cool. I found myself turning page after page. I especially loved Martha’s narrative voice, and the culmination of these things led to a very enjoyable novel.
Cover Art Rating: 5/5
This cover is beautiful. I love the bluey purpleness of it and I love the outlining that depicts the house and, presumably, Rose at the top. It’s almost like a seek-and-find with all these different elements that come straight from the story all hidden together to make up this single image. I especially love the gold foiling, which adds the elegance that’s displayed throughout the novel while explores the house. It’s just a really pretty cover and I think it suits the story well.
Overall Rating: 4.25/5 Paintings
This book is a great choice if you are a fan of Chasing Vermeer or Nooks & Crannies. It’s a historical fiction mystery, it’s got art, it’s got a cast of comical characters, and it’s got a sassy, strong-willed main character. I loved Martha’s narrative voice. She’s so compelling, her motives are pure, even if she’s often given to talking back to authority. She get’s into a few scrapes but she means well. Her daring and curiosity help her rescue a women and take down a man with nefarious intentions. It’s an adventurous ride and it’s really fun. I encourage you to check it out, or if you know of a middle-grade reader who’s into any of the topics I’ve just mentions, hand this to them immediately!
Thoughts & Thanks!
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Have you read any of Fitzgerald’s work? Do you have a middle-grade reader looking for a historical fiction mystery? Are you planning on giving this book a read? Let me know down below!