The Sixty-Eight Rooms

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is a story full of mystery and magic.  The book is reviewed by Melissa G. at Sweet on Books.

What you need to know:

• This book is the first for author, Marianne Malone.
• The Thorne Rooms really do exist at the Art Institute in Chicago.
• This book may inspire a trip to the Art Institute or an interest in history.
• There is some lying to adults and “borrowing” of things that aren’t theirs.
• There are a few illustrations scattered throughout the story.

Sweet Book Summary:

The very real Thorne Rooms (see the Art Institute in Chicago) are the setting for this creative story, featuring time travel, mystery and magic. The concept is excellent and the Thorne Rooms (68 miniature rooms showcasing European and American history) are clearly fascinating but I was somewhat disappointed with the execution. The level of unnecessary detail makes it a slightly tedious read and the number of coincidences are almost too much even for a kid’s fantasy book. That being said, if your reader enjoys adventure and magic and has a bit of patience, there are definitely some redeeming qualities to this story.

It begins with Ruthie who is feeling a little sorry for herself. She shares a room with her sister and doesn’t feel like she has enough space. She thinks that nothing exciting happens to her and that her life is pretty boring. Her best friend Jack, however, is able to turn any situation into an interesting one. I guess he’s just “lucky” like that she thinks, jealously. Everything changes though, when Ruthie and Jack discover a special key during their visit to the Thorne Rooms. It turns out that this magic key enables Ruthie to shrink down to just the right size to actually go inside and explore the Thorne Rooms. It does more than that though. It gives Ruthie the excitement she’s been hoping for and a new found appreciation for her previously dull life. Ruthie and Jack decide they need to sneak into the room behind the exhibit so that they can truly understand the power of the key. In order to do this, they “borrow” and secretly copy the key to that room from their new friend, Mr. Bell, who is a guard there. They also lie to their families so that they can spend the night in the museum. Ruthie figures out a way to get Jack to shrink too (although she is the one with the powers) and they are able to explore the rooms together. Woven into the Thorne Room story line are several other subplots. There’s the concern over Jack’s mom being unable to afford their rent and the possibility that they may have to move. Then there is the once successful artist, Mr. Bell, whose career as a photographer took a downturn after his most prized photographs disappeared years ago. Lastly, there’s Ruthie’s family friend, Mrs. McVittie, a local antique dealer who unexpectedly pops in on Ruthie and later comes in handy as a translator. Believe it or not, all these people are linked to The Thorne Rooms and Ruthie and Jack end up having an impact on each of their lives.

One of the best parts of this book is the excitement that Ruthie and Jack feel about history and the thrill they get from visiting with people from the past. I actually wish there had been more of that. They made me curious about the time periods that they explored and I’m definitely considering a trip to Chicago to see the Thorne Rooms. I hope they inspire other readers to do the same. The friendship between 6th graders, Jack and Ruthie, is another nice feature of this book, setting a good example of how to help each other out, back each other up and just generally watch out for each other. The only strange thing I found is that they don’t seem to mention any other friends. I do also like the jacket cover showing a miniature Ruthie entering one of the rooms, but the few illustrations sprinkled throughout the book seem slightly out of place and don’t really add to the flow of the story. Finally, there is so much packed into these pages – time travel, miniature worlds, missing photographs, a real life financial crisis, a school research project – that you might want to make sure your reader is ready to absorb it all.

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