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Nancy Lodge
The Gravity Thief

In book three of the Lucy Nightingale Adventure Series, The Gravity Thief, Lucy is confronted with her biggest challenge.

Lucy and her class visit the Emily Sears Museum and find that a valuable painting has been stolen.  When Lucy slips away from her class and peeks into the room where the painting had been hanging, she hears mysterious sounds coming from inside a wall.  The next morning, she discusses this with her best friend, Sam Winter who reads her this newspaper headline.  ‘Thieves abscond with Vermeer masterpiece, the Music Lesson, is GONE!”

That night she creeps into the museum to investigate and finds a little Dutch boy named Pieter. Pieter tells Lucy that two men stole his world. He is an apparition who lives in the Music Lesson. Like the other painted figures in the gallery, Pieter likes to climb out of his painting and explore our world when no one is around. The night of the robbery Pieter didn’t have time to get back into his painting. This is troubling because he can’t live in our atmosphere for more than five days.

Lucy is determined to save Pieter by getting the painting back. The idea that people inside paintings behave differently when they can’t be seen is a scientific anomaly, a huge one, and it is a perfect mystery for SLARP, Sam and Lucy’s Anomalies Research Project. When they discover that an evil mastermind ordered the theft because of the secret hidden in the painting, the mystery turns into a race against time to save not just a little boy, but the world.

Lodge’s third Lucy Nightingale novel (after Mona Lisa’s Ghost), featuring a plucky young heroine and her brainy sidekick, is a whimsical introduction to both famous paintings and physics that’s guaranteed to send middle grade readers’ imaginations soaring. During a school field trip to a museum, 11-year-old Lucy Nightingale learns that Jan Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson has been stolen, and she hears ghostly cries in the wall nearby. Along with her best friend, genius scientist and inventor Sam, she investigates. The pair end up going on a magical adventure across time and space to help Peter, a child once hidden in the painting, and track down an evil mastermind who’s building a perpetual motion machine based on symbols Vermeer copied from Leonardo.

The prose is perfectly suited to middle graders, but the discussions of particle physics may push the limits of comprehension even for adult audiences. Lucy’s genuine friendship with Sam offers a spot of delightful normalcy, and his plain-language explanations of concepts such as human neurology (“I think bad people are just good people whose synapses have misfired, leaking the wrong chemicals into their lizard brain”) will help less science-minded readers follow along. Some extraneous elements of the narrative could use a bit more explanation, and mundane moments, such as a boat voyage to the Island of Sklaw, are rendered so dramatically that they feel absurd and give the whole story a dreamlike quality.

Lucy’s well-rounded character is a highlight. Readers will appreciate not only her determination and grit but also her empathy, capacity for learning, and open-mindedness. The inclusion of reproductions of the artworks discussed in the text allows readers to better connect with them, while Hilaire’s quirky illustrations enhance the fun. Lodge’s creative storytelling will keep readers engaged by encouraging them to indulge flights of fancy, giving them permission to stretch their horizons and delight in both art and science.

Takeaway: This delightfully fun and educational novel will encourage older tweens and teens to appreciate both physics and fine art.

Great for fans of Chandler Baker’s Teen Frankenstein, Stuart Gibbs.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A+
Editing: B
Marketing copy: -