Book Review: My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

This book was a complete impulse read. On occasion, I’ll browse through the children’s section in the library to see if any books grab my attention. And, to be honest, the one and only reason I picked up this book and decided to read it is because, well, Paris.
The idea of a book taking place in Paris about a treasure hunt sounded amazing, though this book certainly did not live up to my expectations.

Release: February, 2015.

Synopsis: Nora loves Paris, learning about it through the stories her grandmother Sylvia told her growing up. In fact, they plan to go for her twelve birthday, but only weeks before Sylvia is killed in a car crash. While going through her grandmother’s belonging, Nora finds three tickets to Paris—for her, her mother, and her grandmother—as well and an assortment of cards to be opened in Paris, sending Nora to various places throughout the city on a treasure hunt. Nora sets off on adventure to discover her grandmother’s secrets.

Non-Spoiler Review

Since this is a kid’s book, I tend to be slightly gentler than I would for an adult or teen book. For example, the character’s motivations are very simple, too simple to be realistic. The plot is predictable, as are the plot twists. Saying that, a lot of more complex topics have to be simplified for the average young reader, so I don’t hold that against this book.

For the most part, it is a fun travel story with a heartfelt message.

There were a lot of things good about this book. First of all, I love the short French messages at the beginning of each chapter, translating a word or phrase into French (for example, the first one was ‘“Grandma” is Grand-mere’). Also, there are a few sights in Paris that Nora visited which are very interesting (the Louvre, the gardens Jardin du Luxembourg, etc.), though all these weren’t described in detail.

My favorite thing in this book is the themes. In it, Nora and her mother are struggling with the death of Grandma Sylvia, and this treasure hunt results in them both stepping out of their comfort zone, finally communicating with each other, and becoming better people as a result. I was afraid that this book would turn into a shallow adventure with little meaning, but I was glad that the focus stayed on Nora’s understanding of the world and the people she cared about most.

There were, though, I think, a lot of missed opportunities in this book. For one, Nora meets several friends of Sylvia’s along her journey, who are holding presents from Sylvia for Nora and her mother. But they are extremely bland characters, all blending together. Even for a children’s book, giving a character a brief quirk or two is not hard to do, and was sorely missed in this book.

The second missed opportunity is the ending, which I’ll get into in the spoilers.
But before that, I wanted to mention the few things I picked out of the book which really annoyed me.

First, Phoebe, the British girl Nora meets in Paris and befriends, had never heard of Harry Potter. I mean, excuse me! I understand if she wasn’t interested in it or never read it, but she literally says, “Why, no, I haven’t heard of that book. What’s it about, silly wizards or something?” I’m not sure if she’d kidding and actually has heard of it, or seriously lived as a hermit back in her country with no access to the internet…I haven’t decided which.

Second, the fourth task must be completed on a Wednesday…which happens to be the same day that they read the letter. I mean, you could just say (as the characters point out) that it’s just a matter of luck, but it comes across to me as poor writing. Why did it need to be on a Wednesday? Just to make them seem lucky? What odds would it be that, in the few days they are in Paris, that the day they need to go somewhere on a specific day it is that day…it just feels way too contrived and unnecessary.

Third, Nora wanders around the city, only with another twelve-year-old girl, and her eighteen-year-old brother is fine with it. Even when their mother finds out, she’s a bit annoyed, but doesn’t do much to punish either of them. I mean, really? Do you know how dangerous that is? It’s made light of, since this is a kid’s book, but in real life it’s a horrible idea!

Now, onto the ending.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending was expected and left me feeling like it could have been a bit more. After we spend days with Nora following her grandmother’s bread trail, it leads merely to a book of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (an excellent book, btw), which Sylvia read to both her daughter and granddaughter. Its simplicity didn’t have an extremely deep meaning besides that now Nora and her mom had something in common.

It’s not a bad ending, by any means, I just wanted a bit more.

I felt that way about this book in its entirety. It would hint to something that might turn into something great, but instead it would just turn into something good. I was looking forward to Nora going on a treasure hunt, but instead Sylvia’s letters tell her exactly where to go and who to talk to, so it’s not much of a challenge. I was thinking the pieces Sylvia left with each person would combine to something great, but instead it was just an outfit to wear to a fashion show. This was the case with everything in this book.

It was a good book, but not a great one. That is my conclusion.

Do you think children’s books should be judged easier because they are written for a younger audience, or should they have the same poignancy of an adult book? Have you read this book or is it something you would read? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

3 thoughts on “Book Review: My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

  1. This was a good review and I have this book on my TBR. Whether it’s for children, teens, or adults, I’ll be judging books the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

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