The Gallery

Written by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Review by Kate Braithwaite

Martha O’Doyle may be 100 years old, but she can still vividly remember events from her childhood. Martha grew up in 1920s New York, and when she was twelve, Martha went to work with her mother, who was an efficient and loyal housekeeper for newspaper magnate J. Archer Sewell.

Blessed with a bright and curious mind, Martha finds the Sewell mansion fascinating, not least because Mrs. Sewell spends all her time in her own rooms in the attic. Martha’s suspicions about Mrs. Sewell are roused when she examines the limited number of paintings that the lady of the house sends downstairs to be hung in an otherwise empty gallery. Why those paintings only? And what message do they convey? As Martha looks for a way to communicate with Mrs. Sewell without her mother knowing, she fears that Mr. Sewell will soon have his wife committed to an asylum – unless Martha can find a way to rescue her.

As the parent of three children aged 15, 13 and 11, I struggled to see this book really engaging any of them, despite the fact that the main character is 12 and the book has many colorful descriptions. This is a clever story and it is well written, but as a character, Martha doesn’t really develop. She gains some insight into the kind of man her father is, but beyond that she doesn’t have a lot to lose. I can see this story recast for adults: with an older Martha, perhaps with a greater personal stake in the rescue of Mrs. Sewell, but I have doubts about it for a middle-grade audience.