Title: The Shadow Cipher
Author: Laura Ruby
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Walden Pond Books (HarperCollins imprint)
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction. Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.
The Shadow Cipher is enchanting and mysterious, a delightfully layered puzzle steeped in history. The story of three kids and their mission to save their home, the story of a city full of secrets and the desire to uncover them, no matter what they may hide.
Tess and Theo are smart siblings with quirks and flaws, living in an apartment in a Morningstarr building with their teacher dad and cop mom. Tess is kind and empathetic while Theo is practical and stoic. They butt heads, they don't always agree, but in their own ways they care about what happens. Especially when they find out they're being kicked out by a developer who just bought the buiding. When they decide to try and save their home, neighbour and amazing artist Jaime falls in with them. Jaime's artistic and observant, living with his grandmother, wishing his father wasn't so far away. Little do they know how strange and complicated the Morningstarr's puzzle is and where it will take them.
One of the things I loved about this book is how layered it was. Yes, it's a book about secrets and mystery, about the Morningstarr twins and their puzzle, about their different inventions and their impact on this timeline's present day, but in the little moments it's about home. It's about what makes a home, how it's not necessarily a building but being with people close to you. Tess and Theo's family have lived in their building for decades. Jaime's grandmother has been fixing up the building for ages. No one wants to leave. But change never cares about what people want.
I think it's foolish to hide how much I enjoyed this. The puzzles and the clue-searching, the alternate history and unique technology. The diversity in the characters in terms of race and neurodiversity and financial background and family structure. The impossibility of so much in a world with already seemingly impossible machines. The little hints at altered pop culture, like multiple Wonder Woman and Storm superhero movies, like how it's called Starrbucks. I would definitely recommend this to middle grade readers who love puzzles and mystery, books like Chasing Vermeer and The 39 Clues series.
(I downloaded an e-galley of this title from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.)