Laura Marx Fitzgerald's debut novel, Under the Egg, delightfully weaves NYC childhood with urban farming, WWII history, and art history. I'm not sure any other middle grade novels have ever hit quite as many of my own personal interests. Needless to say, Under the Egg was a captivating read that I could not put down until I finished every last chapter.
Under the Egg begins with Theodora Tenpenny (Theo) relying on her resourcefulness and grit to manage the large NYC house, and accompanying garden, she inherited following her grandfather's death. Theo's mother lives with her, but she clearly has some mental or emotional challenges that prevent her from truly mothering Theo. When Theo accidentally spills rubbing alcohol on one of her grandfather's paintings, a painting that easily rubs off to reveal another older, Renaissance-style painting, Theo's curiosity kicks into high gear. That curiosity leads her on an adventure involving providential new friends, pretentious art experts, Nazi internment camp research, and ultimately, the secret her grandfather was desperate for her to uncover.
Under the Egg blends equal parts mystery and adventure in an engaging romp through NYC with a most clever protagonist. Theo's self-reliance is remarkable, and her determination is admirable. Fitzgerald's writing shines, and the language, content, and dialogue ring with an advanced tone. Despite being marketed as a middle grade read, I thought 11-14 would probably be the ideal ages to read this novel, and it would make a perfect accompaniment to a middle school WWII unit study. I truly wish I could've read Under the Egg to my own 13 year old when she studied WWII last fall.