Reviews for Black Book of Secrets
Booklist Reviews 2007 October #2
*Starred Review* Forced into being a pickpocket by his parents, Ludlow Fitch rebels, fleeing the city after they attempt to pluck out his teeth to sell for gin money. In the mountain village of Pagus Parvus, he finds work with another newcomer to town, Joe Zabbidou, a "secret pawnbroker" whose business is to relieve people of their most troublesome secrets--which Ludlow records for Zabbidou in a mysterious black tome. The story's vaguely Dickensian atmosphere is exquisite, and Higgins populates her dark, imaginary landscape with gnarled gravediggers, brutish butchers, impish ragamuffins, and a dastardly landlord bent on squeezing every last shilling from the destitute town. The story never lags as Zabbidou stockpiles the town's litany of woes, leaving his own secret intentions a mystery even to his young acolyte. At the same time, Zabbidou's developing role as a father figure for Ludlow transforms the boy into something he never dreamed he could become: worthwhile. A tantalizingly revelatory ending leaves at least one thread dangling for future volumes (which are sure to evoke more picaresque oddities and nefarious tales), making this a smart, peculiarly thrilling book that is sure to appeal to readers ready to sidestep the goody-goody Harry Potters of adventure fiction. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Spring
After his parents try to sell his teeth (right out of his mouth!), Ludlow Fitch runs away. Apprenticed to eccentric Joe Zabbidou, Ludlow learns a trade: pawnbroker of secrets. Passages alternate between Ludlow's memoirs and third-person accounts, and the story's resolution collects all the threads. Strongly seasoned with details of nineteenth-century oddities, the story abounds with puzzles, quirks, and enticing disclosures. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #1
After his own parents try to sell his teeth (right out of his mouth!) for cash, Ludlow Fitch runs away. Apprenticed almost at once to the charismatic and eccentric Joe Zabbidou, Ludlow begins to learn his new trade as a pawnbroker of secrets. In passages alternating between Ludlow's memoirs and third-person accounts, the reader learns that Joe pays the villagers of Pagus Parvus for secrets they don't want to keep anymore, confessions Ludlow then writes in the Black Book of Secrets. The cash Joe advances gets the villagers out from under the usurious thumb of first citizen Jeremiah Ratchet, whose ruinous effects on the village are slowly revealed in the Black Book. But when Joe refuses to "do something" about Ratchet -- his rule is never to interfere in the course of things -- the frustrated Pagus Parvians begin to turn their anger on Joe. The resolution, as tidy a piece of plotting as can be imagined, not only collects all the plot threads but leads to the deeper revelation of who Joe is and why he plies such a curious trade. Strongly seasoned with details of nineteenth-century oddities, the story abounds with puzzles, quirks, and enticing disclosures. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 September #2
Higgins's Dickensian debut features an opening scene that is both literally and figuratively gripping, plus an intriguing premise--but only about a short story's worth of plot, and that's riddled with gaps of logic. He frames his tale as chapters from two old volumes somehow stored in a wooden leg, plus frequent departures into other points of view to fill in gaps. It alternates between memoirs of young Ludlow Fitch, a lad who narrowly escapes his gin-soaked parents' attempt to have his teeth extracted for sale and then falls in with itinerant pawnbroker/psychotherapist Joe Zabbidou, and the confessions of several patients--most involving murders or other dark deeds--as recorded in Zabbidou's titular tome. Having engineered an ugly end for a particularly despicable villain, Zabbidou ultimately takes Fitch to a huge underground library where the ledger of confessions is shelved with thousands of others (how it came to be in that leg remains unexplained), and Fitch gets a clean, new one of his very own. Though set in an alternate universe, the tale closes with historical notes on the Victorian-style horrors mentioned or committed. The parts don't hang together at all, but readers may enjoy many of them individually. (Fantasy. 11-13) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2008 April/May
Higgins has written a dark, sophisticated, and deeply satisfying gothic novel for middle school and young adult audiences. In true Dickens fashion, Ludlow Fitch, a young victim of alcoholic parental abuse, escapes to a small village and becomes the assistant to Joe Zabbidou, the Secret Pawnbroker. The people of the village are being tormented by their miserly landlord and by the many dark, villainous secrets of their own past. Zabbidou offers to purchase their secrets for a large sum of money and has Ludlow record them in a black book. The reader never knows who Joe really is and where he gets his power from, but this adds to the overall suspense. The book is broken into chapters, each dealing with a different townsperson's nightmare or that serve to move the story forward. Higgins interjects some humor in this dark tale including the names she has given some characters: Gumbroot the dentist, Cleaver the butcher, and Leafbinder the bookseller. With outstanding character development, suspenseful plot, and historical setting, the reader can only hope that we will be allowed to meet up again with Joe and Ludlow in the near future. Highly Recommended. Susan Raben, Learning Resource Center Director, Lyon Elementary School, Glenview, Illinois © 2008 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 November #3
This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere. In an indeterminate, grim past (think Dickensian squalor by way of a Broadway stage set), the boy Ludlow Fitch flees the City, "a stinking place undeserving of a name," and his parents, who have betrayed him for the last time. Chance (or is it destiny?) leads him to remote Pagus Parvus and to another newcomer, Joe Zabbidou, who sets himself up as a pawnbroker. But Zabbidou has a sideline: he pays good money for secrets. One by one the villagers come to him at midnight to unburden themselves--and they spill some doozies. The undertaker has dug up corpses, to be sold to a medical school; the butcher served his father a pie of rat, mouse, beetles and worms. As Ludlow inscribes the secrets in Zabbidou's Black Book, he fights down his suspicions of Zabbidou even as he joins the villagers in their hatred of Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthy villain to blame for their misery and evil deeds. Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hollowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience's curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) [Page 57]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2008 April
Gr 5-8-- A secret pawnbroker, Joe Zabbidou pays for secrets, and everyone has one. Ludlow Fitch, escaping his parents' efforts to sell the teeth from his mouth, meets Joe in the desolate mountain village of Pagus Parvus. It is an ideal place for Joe as miserly Jeremiah Ratchet uses people's transgressions to blackmail and cheat them. Joe offers young Ludlow a job transcribing confessions into Joe's Black Book. Desperate individuals declare they are grave robbers, thieves, even murderers, and are freed by their confessions. As folk unburden their secrets, mass hatred for Ratchet begins to foment, and later Joe himself becomes a target. A tightly woven novel, Black Book grabs readers from the first image of Ludlow protecting his vulnerable teeth. The author uses the device of claiming to have found extracts of Joe's book and Ludlow's memoirs, bridging the gaps with her imagination. The shifting perspective slows the action considerably. That said, Higgins employs visceral imagery (rat pies, wives buried alive) as well as Rembrandt-like contrasts of light and dark to illuminate the loneliness of wealth and despair. Add to this a dollop of suspense and the intriguing idea that fear of our own actions is our greatest enemy, and the result is an unusual, compelling read. Readers who like Sharon Shinn or Megan Whalen Turner will love this unique novel.--Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT [Page 142]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2007 August
Raised by his drunken, avaricious parents to be a pickpocket, Ludlow Fitch manages to run away on the night that Ma and Pa try to sell his teeth. After a mad chase through the City, Ludlow escapes to the mountain village of Pagus Parvus by desperately clinging to the back of a carriage. Thus begins an intriguing blend of adventure and historical fiction spiced with a light touch of the fantastic. Arriving in Pargus Parvus late at night, Ludlow spies a lone man walking in the bitter cold and follows him to an abandoned shop. Ludlow, caught peeking through the window, is invited inside by Joe Zabbidou who describes himself as "the Secret Pawnbroker." Although Ludlow has no idea what it might mean, he accepts Joe's offer of a job as his apprentice. The villagers begin bringing items to sell and some get specially invited back for a midnight appointment. With Ludlow acting as scribe, the citizens of Pagus Parvus sell their secrets to Joe, confessing evil deeds and nasty affairs. The villagers initially like Joe but are turned against him by nasty Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthiest man in town Higgins creates a fascinating novel peopled with colorful characters and imbued with clever plot twists. The reader's interest is sustained throughout the book, and the novel's climax is both excellent and surprising. This book appears to be the first in a series, good news for junior and senior high students who appreciate a well-spun tale.-Rachelle Bilz 5Q 4P J S Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.
VOYA Reviews 2008 February
Ludlow Fitch is a young city boy who finally escapes his thieving, lowlife parents and arrives at a small, mountain-top village to begin a new life. Fitch becomes the scribe for a pawnbroker of secrets-Joe Zabbidou buys secrets. In doing so, Joe and Fitch find out everything about the insular world of Pagus Parvus. In a world of Resurrectionists, chimneysweeps, and evil landlords, Fitch finds safety, magic, and quiet happiness with his new master. Higgins writes her debut novel as if she found Fitch's memoirs and Zabbidou's Black Book of Secrets, and the device works. Fitch is the classic Dickensian adolescent boy, who is raised by horrible parents and must choose a better, more honest life. By adding the villager's tales in the Black Book, Higgins creates fascinating characters who add depth to the plot. The author should have saved the last few chapters for a sequel-the end wrapped up too nicely. One chapter does not seem to fit with the rest of the novel, with a little too much fantasy thrown in when the rest of the book is almost a historical fiction novel with incredible characters. The book has beautiful black-edged pages, and if it were not for the illustration of the young boy on the cover, the spooky cover would draw in older readers.-Sarah Hill 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2008 Voya Reviews.