York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby. May 16, 2017. Walden Pond Press, 496 p. ISBN: 9780062306937. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.5; Lexile: 780.
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.
From National Book Award Finalist Laura Ruby comes a visionary epic set in a New York City at once familiar and wholly unexpected.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence
Booklist starred (March 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 14))
Grades 4-7. Twins Tess and Theo live in one of the only remaining buildings designed by the Morningstarrs, visionary twins who built glittering structures in nineteenth-century New York, as well as the Cipher, a notorious, citywide puzzle leading to fantastic treasure. Now, in the twenty-first century, Tess and Theo’s building has been purchased by a mercenary developer, but Tess grasps at a shred of hope: if they solve the Cipher, they might be able to keep their home. With robust, architectural world building, Ruby reveals an alternate New York teeming with mechanical marvels and compelling secrets. This New York still has some familiar features, however: a rich culture of diversity alongside insidious greed and wealth inequality. Tess and Theo, and their friend and neighbor Jaime, have distinct voices and idiosyncrasies that, though some might consider them odd, become marvelous strengths. As the trio traverse the city, they’re often baffled by how easily clues fall into their hands, but Ruby slyly sidesteps those coincidences by giving the Cipher itself a mysterious, subtle sort of agency. In this smart, immersive series starter, Ruby expertly juggles stunning plot choreography, realistic stakes in a captivating fantasy setting, well-wrought characters, and flashes of sharp cultural commentary. It’s a brainy romp with a worrying heart, and while many plot threads are resolved, Theo, Tess, and Jaime will surely, thankfully, be back for more.
Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2017)
When their (alternate reality) New York City apartment building is bought by a scheming real-estate developer, seventh-grade twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their neighbor Jaime Cruz devise a plan to solve the Old York Cipher and thus save their home. The Cipher had been created in the nineteenth century by the brilliant Morningstarr twins (after whom Tess and Theo were named), inventors of the city’s “mechanical wizardry”–streets paved with solar panels, metal caterpillars that clean the Underway trains, and elevators that go in every direction–who then disappeared without a trace. As Tess, Theo, and Jaime take a fresh look at the Cipher, a new path of enticing and dangerous clues leads them deeper into the Morningstarrs’ mystery and closer to treacherous villains. Ruby’s nuanced trio of protagonists strikes a balance of emotional vulnerability (the twins coping with their grandfather’s onset of dementia, Jaime with his father’s increasing absence, and all three with the impending loss of their home) and resilience. The equally thoughtful vision of an alternative New York, both historical and present-day, pulsates right off the page, with geography, history, and steampunk-esque machines thoroughly integrated into the thrum of a strange but recognizable city. Weaving one web of secrets even as it works to unravel another, Ruby’s story will have both mystery and sci-fi fans reading and rereading in anticipation of the next installment. anastasia m. collins
About the Author
Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens and children. Her titles include the Edgar-nominated tween mystery Lily’s Ghosts, the children’s fantasy The Wall and the Wing (3/06) and a sequel, The Chaos King (5/07) all published by HarperCollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, Good Girls (9/06), also from HarperCollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007. She followed this with the teen novels Play Me (2008) and Bad Apple (2009).
Her short fiction for adults has appeared in various literary magazines, including Other Voices and The Florida Review. A collection of these stories, I’m Not Julia Roberts, was published by Warner Books in January 2007. Called “hilarious and heart-wrenching” by People and “a knowing look at the costs and rewards of remaking a family,” by the Miami Herald, the book was also featured in Redbook, Working Mother, and USA Today, among others.
Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two cats that serve as creative advisors.
Her website is www.lauraruby.com.
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