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The Secret Apartment    by Natalie Fast order for
Secret Apartment
by Natalie Fast
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Lyn Seippel

When her mother remarries, eleven-year-old Jillian moves from Pennsylvania into a famous New York City building called the Dakota, where she is forced to share a room with her evil step-sister Mariella. Her mother enrolls her in a summer art camp where she spends most of her time doing sports activities and very little time on art. Sack races are considered sports and face painting is all the art she's been exposed to so far.

Jillian does have one piece of luck. She is asked to cat-sit for her neighbor, Mrs. Whiteflower, while the latter teaches at an art colony in Maine. Jillian is happiest when she is alone with Mitsy in Mrs. Whiteflower's penthouse apartment. Mitsy is an adorable cat and Jillian is permitted the run of the apartment. No wonder Jillian comes up with the idea to ditch camp and spend all day with Mitsy. There she can actually practice her own art, play music, and enjoy people-watching, a game she becomes addicted to because the penthouse windows give an enticing view of the apartments across 72nd street. Emily, another young neighbor who hates the horse camp she is attending almost as much Jillian hates art camp, decides to join her. While watching the neighbors, Jillian and Emily fixate on a lone teenager who spends all his time in one room staring at the wall. Is he grounded, sick, or just bored? When he never leaves his room - which has no TV, computer, books, or other entertainment - the girls began to get worried.

Readers will enjoy the Rear Window premise of the book. Have the girls discovered a crime and what should they do about it? The story falls apart a little in the girls' reluctance to do the right thing when they suspect a crime, but they come through and the ending is satisfying if a little far-out. The Secret Apartment would make an excellent beginning to a series of mysteries starring Jillian and her friends. Like Harriet, the Spy, Jillian is likeable and talented, and New York City is full of puzzles waiting to be solved.

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