Book Review of The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

The Name Of This Book Is Secret came out in 2007, and it is the first in “The Secret Series,” 5 books by Pseudonymous Bosch. I first heard of this book on Amazon.

Book Review of The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch ~ What My Kids Read
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The Name of this Book Is Secret is a fun read. It made me think of Lemony Snicket (You can find my review of the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events here) because of the sarcasm and the fact that the author keeps begging you to stop reading the book. It’s another book in which the adults have no clue, and the kids save the day. It was well-written and entertaining. The villains are clearly evil, and the children do the right thing by choosing to save a classmate rather than save themselves.

Some parents might be concerned with the main topic of this book, which was alchemy. The villains kidnapped children with special abilities and it is implied that they all died. The children rescue one boy who is about to have his bran fluid sucked out of him (to be used a an elixir for eternal youth). There are references to drinking monkey blood, ritual sacrifice, and being burned to death. The main villain, Ms. Mauvais, appears to drink blood and eat a heart (presumably part of the alchemy of staying young). One of the main characters, Max-Ernest, has parents who have been fighting since the day he was born. They had separated, but lived in the same house for his sake. The house is split down the middle in style, and neither parents will speak to the other parent or step over the line into the other’s part of the house. Although the parents are clearly comic relief in the book, their behavior has dramatically affected their son and at the end of the book, the parents decide to get a divorce and not live in the same house any more. This is presented as a good decision. The other main character, Cass, makes several questionable moral decisions. She chooses to lie to her mom and Max-Ernest’s parents about where she is going, she forges a ransom note in order to get the school principal to take her seriously, and she lies to her mother and “honorary” grandfathers about her whereabouts. There are several very scary scenes, but all of the main characters survive.

One of the part I personally found very funny was the “Skelton Sisters,” an obvious spoof on some very famous “teen heiresses and television stars who controlled their own cosmetic empire.” They are only referenced, never actually appear in the story, but it was a funny reference to pop culture. There is also an odd scene of Cass dreaming that she ends up at McDonald’s. “She didn’t want to go to McDonald’s. In order to make their hamburgers, McDonald’s raised and slaughtered so many cows that they became diseased and land was destroyed. Land that should have been used to grow grain and feed hungry people. It was an environmental emergency… She knew all about it from a documentary she saw with her mom.”

This book is clearly the beginning of a series. Although the main plot is complete, the reader is left with many questions that I can only conclude will be answered in the following books.

Book Review of The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch ~ What My Kids Read

My Mom-Meter gives The Name Of This Book Is Secret an overall safety rating of 2 (moderately safe) for ages 10 and up.

The Lexile rating for The Name Of This Book Is Secret is 810L.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Click here for Liam’s Review

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Disrespectful AttitudesSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gambling: Safe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorSafe - no actual four-letter words

LanguageModerately Safe

Magic/SupernaturalCaution

MoralityModerately Safe

Romance/SexSafe - no actual four-letter words

Scary ThemesCaution

ViolenceModerately Safe

Plot summary of The Name Of This Book Is Secret: ***Contains Spoilers***

I found a good summary of the plot at Books 4 Your Kids.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in The Name Of This Book Is Secret:

  •  Max-Ernest’s parents argued over his name when he was born, and they do not speak to each other until the end of the book. Do you think that Max-Ernest’s parents made good choices? What happens when you disagree with someone? What about when two people who are married don’t agree on something?
  • “Lying is an important skill to have.” Do you agree with that statement?
  • “Should she have confessed it all? I will let you, Reader, be the judge – as experienced as I know you are at plotting and scheming and getting in and out of scrapes. Grown-ups can be useful at times – money and car rides come to mind. But they also have a habit of getting in the way when you want to do something they don’t approve of.” Do you think Cass should have confided in an adult? Why do you think grown-ups “have a habit of getting in the way when you want to do something they don’t approve of?”
  • After they are caught stealing, twin boys are told “When you steal something, you should walk away slowly. Otherwise you attract attention.” 
  • Cass fakes a ransom note to get the school principal to suspect Ms. Mauvais and Dr. L. The plan backfires. Cass had good motives (to prompt authorities to pursue the real villains, but do you think it was a good idea?
  • Max-Ernest talks so much because he has never stopped to talk about how he feels. Do you ever feel like you can’t talk bout how you feel?
  • Cass doesn’t know anything about her father. She’s afraid to ask her mom because she thinks it might hurt her feelings. Do you think it would hurt Cass’ mom’s feelings? Is there anything that you are afraid to ask us?
  • “A strange things had happened while Max-Ernest was away: his disappearance had brought his parents together. Their concern for their son had made them overcome their differences – and agree to split up.” Do you think that is what Max-Ernest needed them to do? Is there another alternative his parents should have considered?
  • If you are interested in Egyptology, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day – The Complete Papyrus of Ani is recommended in the Appendix. It is one of the oldest books in the world, full of Egyptian mythology.

Alcohol/Drugs: 

  • Ms. Mauvais drinks “a tall glass of red wine – at least Cass assumed it was wine. It was the right color but it looked disturbingly thick.” Later, when it spills, it is hinted that it might be blood.

Bullying:

  • Max-Ernest talks so much that all of his classmates are tired of him. “Most of them were so tred of his jokes that they didn’t bother to respond at all. Those who did said things on the order of ‘Uh huh’ and ‘Whatever’ and ‘That’s stupid!’ and ‘No more jokes – it’s so annoying, Max-Ernest!’ and ‘Why can’t you just have one name like a normal person?’… Max-Ernest was used to it. He never let what other people said upset him.”
  •  Cass has big ears and she is always predicting a catastrophe. Two of the pretty, popular girls laugh at her behind her back about her ears (but not out of her earshot).

Disrespectful Attitudes: None

Gambling: None

Gross Behavior:

  • Mentions picking nose as an example.
  • Max-Ernest says that something smells like “Number Two.”
  • Cass thinks to herself that “boys always peed loudly.”
  • A brochure about The Midnight Sun Sensorium and Spa reports a rumor that guests “drink the blood of newborn monkeys.”
  • Owen says “As it is, I put your chances at about ten percent. Wait any longer, your little butts are history.”
  • The pyramid echoes so well that even the most quiet “belch” or a “fart” would be clearly heard throughout the room.
  • Max-Ernest uses his decoder to translate “the word ‘fart’ into every language he could think of (someone had told him that fart jokes were really funny).”

Language:

  • “Stupid” is used multiple times.
  • “Dummy” is used once.
  • “Shut up” is said once.
  • “Idiot” is used once.

Magic/Supernatural: 

  • Mentions “slaying dragons,” “traveling in time,” and “extraterrestrials” as things this book is not about.
  • Luck is referenced several times throughout the book.
  • Briefly tells the Greek myth of Cassandra and Apollo (god of the sun). Cassandra is given the ability to see the future, but no one will ever believe her.
  • Mentions that some children play a game “involving fortune-telling.”
  • “Ghoulish” is used once in a description of Gloria’s tales of deceased clients.
  • The entire story centers around the alleged death of a magician. As the story progresses, you learn that he was investigating alchemy and may have discovered the secret to eternal youth.
  • Max-Ernest mentions elves and orcs in a conversation.
  • “It was as if [Ms. Mauvais] and Dr. L had taken photographs of themselves as just the perfect moments when they looked their absolute best, and then hey had cast a spell so that they would look like their photographs forever.”
  • Cass says that the two villains look like zombies.
  • The twin brothers “had been in telepathic communication all [their] lives.”
  • Ms. Mauvais should be over a hundred years old, but she looks young. “‘Maybe if she was a vampire, then it could be her.’ Max-Ernest suggested. ‘But that’s highly doubtful. Nobody thinks there are real vampires. Except for vampire bats. They’re real. And Count Dracula – he was real. But he wasn’t a real vampire. He was just a mean old guy….'”
  • The Egyptian god Thoth is mentioned many times. The alchemists’ “religion” centers around him.
  • Cass keeps asking Max-Ernest if he has been hypnotized.
  • Dr. L is described as looking “vampiric.”
  • Dr. L tells the children that the “Secret” to eternal youth is so dangerous that everyone that learns it dies a terrible death.
  • “Alchemy hold that all life is made of One Thing. Traditionally, this thing is called the Philosopher’s Stone – although it is not so much a stone as a secret formula. If they could only find it, alchemists believed they could turn lead into gold, and that they could make themselves immortal.”
  • There is an altar in the the pyramid at the Midnight Sun, “and on top of the altar stood a large iron bowl (smaller than a Volkswagon Bug, but larger than a witch’s cauldron) in which a fire burned…”
  • Dr. L appeared to be wearing something “more appropriate for a ritual sacrifice than a magic trick.”
  • Because of alchemy, there is a 97 year old woman who looks like a teenager, and a 489 year old man who looks old (but not 489).
  • Ms. Mauvais calls on Thoth, also known as Hermes, also known as Mercury as they begin the procedure on Benjamin.
  • Grandpa Larry tells “an old and gratifyingly bloody Chinese legend about the origin of tea.” The footnote says that a Buddhist monk kept falling asleep when he was meditating. “This monk got so frustrated that he eventually cut out his own eyelids… According to the legend, the world’s first tea bushes grew in the spot where his eyelids fell. And that is why to this very day, drinking tea helps people keep their eyes open when they’re tired.”
  • Max-Ernest hypothesizes that maybe he and Cass “had some kind of Vulcan mind meld” (referencing Star Trek).
  • Gloria says it was like someone hypnotized her.
  • If you are interested in Egyptology, The Egyptian Book Of The Dead is recommended in the Appendix. It is one of the oldest books in the world, full of Egyptian mythology.

Morality: 

  •  After being warned to stop reading the book, the author tells the reader “Good…. you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.”
  • “Lying is an important skill to have.” Cass lies about something small first to practice lying before telling her mother the real lie.
  • “For a brief, mad moment, Cass considered telling her grandfathers everything… But she knew is would sound like she was making up a story just to exonerate herself. Once she solved the mystery… maybe then she could confide in them – and maybe then they would trust her again.” There is a footnote to this statement that says “Should she have confessed it all? I will let you, Reader, be the judge – as experienced as I know you are at plotting and scheming and getting in and out of scrapes. Grown-ups can be useful at times – money and car rides come to mind. But they also have a habit of getting in the way when you want to do something they don’t approve of.”
  • After they are caught stealing, twin boys are told “When you steal something, you should walk away slowly. Otherwise you attract attention.”
  • Cass fakes a ransom note to get the school principal to suspect Ms. Mauvais and Dr. L. The plan backfires.

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • Max-Ernest’s parents argued over his name when he was born and separated after naming him.
  • Cass sometimes calls her mother “Mel.”
  • The circus owner sold the twin brothers to Ms. Mauvais. “Nowadays, it would be a very shocking thing to sell a pair of ten-year-old twins to a stranger. This was the circus. My brother and I, we were some carnival attractions, no better than the trained monkeys.”
  • Owen blasts “hip-hop with lyrics that the kids were glad their parents weren’t around to hear.”
  • Gloria mentions that her life sounds like the soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.”

Romance/Sex:

  • Max-Ernest says that Ms. Mauvais is “the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen.”
  • Luciano “was more than a little bit in love” after meeting Ms. Mauvais.
  • Ms. Mauvais asks Cass “What man would marry a woman with ears like yours?”
  • Ms. Mauvais “ruffled” Max-Ernest’s hair and asked “Have you ever seen such a handsome young man?” She calls him “darling” and kisses him on the forehead. Max-Ernest says “Don’t worry, she’s not my girlfriend or anything, that’s just the way she is – all kissy ad stuff. It’s kind of embarrassing…”
  • “A strange things had happened while Max-Ernest was away: his disappearance had brought his parents together. Their concern for their son had made them overcome their differences – and agree to split up.”

Scary Themes:

  • Mentions that detective shows on television always identify “cadavers” by their teeth.
  • When Gloria threatens to throw away a box of old stuff, Cass’ “honorary” grandpas act “as if Gloria were threatening murder.”
  • Cass tells Max-Ernest that her father was struck by lightning and died, but you learn that she actually doesn’t know anything about her father.
  • Cass is worried about her grandfathers. “But what if her grandfathers were bound and gagged and locked in a closet and she could have saved them but she didn’t? Or what if they were lying in the kitchen in a pool of blood breathing their last breaths and she could have been there to hear their dying wishes but she wasn’t? Or what if…” [Her grandfathers are fine, but there had been a robbery – which is unsettling.]
  • Two boys are caught stealing at the circus, and the man who catches them tells them he will feed them to the tiger. You think he is actually going to do it, when the owner appears and tells them that the tiger is harmless.
  • There are several stories of children who were kidnapped by the “Golden Lady.” They disappear and are never seen again.
  • Cass concludes “it was her responsibility to make sure [Benjamin] got home safe before he was burned alive in a sulfurous inferno.”
  • Cass imagines that children are boiled alive in molten gold at the Midnight Sun. [They aren’t, but you still don’t know at the end of the book what did happen to the other kidnapped children.]
  • Dr. L convinces Max-Ernest to get a lobotomy to help with his talking problem. [It doesn’t happen.]
  • Ms. Mauvais drinks “a tall glass of red wine – at least Cass assumed it was wine. It was the right color but it looked disturbingly thick.” Later, when it spills, it is hinted that it might be blood. Ms. Mauvais also eats something that appears to be a pulsing heart.
  • Dr. L tells the children that the “Secret” to eternal youth is so dangerous that everyone that learns it dies a terrible death. He tells them that an antiquities dealer “spent the remainder of his life in a fruitless search for the Secret, until he died alone and destitute, prey to a terrible, flesh-eating virus.”
  • “Benjamin was strapped inside a strange and intricate contraption that combined the most sadistic features of a dentist’s chair with the most lethal elements of an electric chair.” Dr. L plans to use a reed to do “in essence – a spinal tap through the nose. For this boy, I’m afraid brain death is a near certainty.”

Violence:

  • The story centers on the alleged death of a magician. He was supposedly burnt in a fire. His kitchen was destroyed by a very brief, intense fire, leaving some of his teeth and a strong sulfur smell.
  • “As a child, Mussolini was expelled from school for stabbing another student and throwing a pot of ink at his teacher.”
  • Pietro hates the Ringmaster for selling his brother to Ms. Mauvais, and he tells him that he will kill him for it. [He doesn’t.]
  • The circus where Luciano and Pietro had been performing was burned down. “I did not know exactly what had happened, but I was certain about one thing: the fire, it had been meant for me.”
  • Pietro finds a note from his brother that “was like a knife inside my heart.”
  • A brochure about The Midnight Sun Sensorium and Spa reports a rumor that guests “drink the blood of newborn monkeys.”
  • “The one dish Ms. Mauvais ate was the last. It was consisted of a small quivering mass that pulsed intermittently like a heart… she speared it suddenly and violently with a chopstick – then swallowed it whole. As Ms. Mauvais sighed in satisfaction, Cass thought she detected a new vibrancy in her hostess’s pale white cheeks.”
  • When the children escape from the Midnight Sun, the crowd shouts “Throw them into the fire!” (Thankfully, they escape.)
  • Grandpa Larry tells “an old and gratifyingly bloody Chinese legend about the origin of tea.” The footnote says that a Buddhist monk kept falling asleep when he was meditating. “This monk got so frustrated that he eventually cut out his own eyelids…”

Book Review of The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch ~ What My Kids Read

From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I liked this book. It is very funny. It made me think of Lemony Snicket because he begs you to stop reading, and it’s also full of tragic events. It has Lemony Snicket-style writing and puzzles like The Mysterious Benedict Society does. If you like sarcasm and mystery then you will enjoy this book.  It is cool because it sounds very real but the story is far-fetched because it involves things like a Symphony Of Smells and a spa that is really an alchemist hideout. The author keeps you hanging throughout the whole book. 10 out of 10 stars.”

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