If you like puzzles, coincidences, and art, Chasing Vermeer is the book for you, as it’s full of all three. I’ve always liked secret codes and puzzles, so I was hooked from the very beginning, which is a good sign with books. The book starts out when the same anonymous letter is delivered to three different people. The deliveries all happen on the same night, in the same neighborhood, and the letter asks each person to help solve a crime that “has wronged one of the world’s greatest painters.” The painter referred to is Johannes Vermeer, a famous artist from the sixteen hundreds, and the writer of the letter believes that many paintings attributed to him were actually painted by different people. I’ve only read one other book that mentioned art scandals, but the topic intrigued me, and I knew I was going to like this book.
Things get stranger when one of the main characters, Petra, finds a book called Lo!, which is full of strange happenings and coincidences. She shares it with the other main character, Calder. Soon the two eleven-year-olds are finding coincidences and unexplainable happenings everywhere, especially things related to Lo! and Johannes Vermeer. So, when a priceless Vermeer painting disappears, they know only they will be able to recover it.
This book has challenged the way I think about things. One example of this is its portrayal of coincidences and their relation to the story. The characters treat coincidences with about as much relevance as facts, and I found this surprising, because I don’t believe in coincidences. Nor do I believe that everything that happens is supposed to happen. I like to think that what I do is what I do because of my choices, not fate’s, so I had a hard time understanding why they would think that way. But I like thinking in new ways, and this book is full of new ways to see things.
What’s interesting is that Blue Balliett, the author, seems to be suggesting that the coincidences in the book are meant to be, but they aren’t necessarily important to the storyline. So you might notice themes that repeat themselves, and you might think they’re important, but nothing comes of them. It’s sort of like some of the clues don’t matter—still, they’re there, and that's what matters. Not many books work that way, where some things are just there because, and that's what I love most about it!
Just like some things seem to be clues but aren’t, other things that don’t seem important are often vital to the storyline. I sometimes had to reread certain parts to make sure I understood what was going on, because it’s a very complex story, even if it has fairly simple language.
While this story is unpredictable, it is not unbelievable. When a book is so unbelievable it could never happen, I find it hard to identify with the characters. Petra and Calder are realistically rendered, and I could easily understand them and their ways of thinking. Petra loves to write, like me, and Calder likes puzzles and codes, and he daydreams a lot, which I have to admit I do frequently! Both are intrigued by the patterns of coincidence, as many people are. Altogether, this is a very believable yet complicated story, and I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything quite like it again.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. Scholastic Corporation, 2004. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!