Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

Blue Balliet has successfully drawn me into three different art topics about which I would have said I had no interest. None. Chasing Vermeer made me look at painting. The Wright 3, architecture. The Calder Game immediately hooked me with entrancing descriptions of Alexander Calder's mobiles which, to the delight of Petra, Tommy, and most importantly, Calder, are on display at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Now seventh graders, Petra, Tommy, and Calder visit the museum with their new teacher, Ms. Button. Despite the Button's attempts to squash any real enjoyment of the exhibit, the exhibit is altogether too majestic to be squashed. Images in my mind bobbed and waved gently as students noticed different shapes in Calder's (that's Alexander Calder the artist, not Calder Pillay the kid) ever-changing artwork.

When Calder's (the kid, not the artist) father gets the opportunity to go to England to study botanical gardens, Calder gets to go along. "You get a break from the Button," says Tommy. In addition Calder knows that Woodstock, the small town where they're staying, is home to Blenheim Palace, a hedge maze, a river and waterfall, and more history than most 12-year-old Americans can understand.

When they arrive, the Pillays learn that a donated Alexander Calder sculpture is displayed in the Woodstock town square. (More on this later.) This piece of modern art doesn't fit into the historic feel of Woodstock nor into the hearts of Woodstock's residents. Soon it disappears, stolen, amazingly, right out from under their noses. That same night Calder disappears. Two Calders, one night, both gone.

After Calder's mom is hospitalized with an injured back, Petra, Tommy, and Mrs. Sharpe cross the pond to help search for Calder. There are more codes and more hidden messages, and as more days go by with Calder still missing, the tension mounts. As the history of Woodstock comes into play and subplots twist like Blenheim Palace's maze, many of the loose ends grow closer.

(Okay, it's later.) I found it odd that after all the mesmerizing description of mobiles, the mystery centered on an Alexander Calder sculpture. The mobile theme continues throughout the book - ideas, words, people, and shapes all balance - but the main piece of art is sculpture.

There are numerous unidentified people throughout. There was "the adult who had been watching" and one time "eyes followed his back" and more than once there were "eyes peering out of a nearby window." At first it was mysterious, then it got confusing, and finally I stopped trying to keep track of all the secret watchers.

I found myself reading to finish rather than reading to find out what would happen. Maybe the attempt to balance all the subplots in one literary mobile kept the plot from moving forward too quickly, like if too much was given away at once, the balance would be thrown off.

The Calder Game is longer than the previous two novels, and unfortunately for young fans of the first novels, more complex. Maybe too complex. Fans of Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 will want to read it, so I will recommend it, but The Calder Game doesn't get my highest recommendation.

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