It was really hard for me to turn off my teacher brain while reading Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer. The book’s intended audience is middle-grade readers, and while I think the me of that age would have been delighted with this book (it would have appealed to my snootiest, inner-art-snob instincts), 33-year-old me had a hard time getting into it. I kept looking at it from a “Would I want to teach this?” perspective, rather than from “Am I enjoying reading this?” I don’t know that I did.
Balliett does a terrific job of bringing alive the setting. I loved imaging Hyde Park in the fall, as well as Ms. Hussey’s classroom. The main characters, Calder and Petra, seem like nice kids, maybe a little prodigious, but altogether nice. Foils are provided in the form of a nosey classmate and a malcontent older lady.
My chief complaint is that mysteries must have their solutions hidden in their pages. Solutions that come out of nowhere or coincidentally are not satisfying solutions to any mysteries other than the author’s (“How am I going to get this character from point A to point B?”). The ending does not offer a satisfying conclusion.
I think I am jealous of Calder and Petra. These are students who have regular access to the Art Institute of Chicago, who attend an experimental university-sponsored school, one of whom “works” at a world-famous bookstore. Both 12-year-old and 33-year-old me are envious.
Would I teach Chasing Vermeer? Not in my current situation. I probably will read the sequels, but my enthusiasm has dampened somewhat from what I imagined the mystery could be.