Secrets of the River by Caroline Ludovici

By Ekta R. Garg

September 2, 2015

Genre: YA fiction/mystery

Rated: Borrow it

Four teens run across a mystery right in their backyard and must work to solve it against an impending celebration and some suspicious men. The trouble is that the teens don’t know for sure what the men want. When someone close to the family disappears, the teens realize the entire matter may be larger than they originally imagined. Author Caroline Ludovici brings back the step siblings from her first book The Obsidian Mask in the well-intentioned but somewhat premature sequel Secrets of the River.

Siblings Natasha and Alex travel to Italy to visit the home of Gabriella and Lorenzo, the brother and sister who will soon become their step siblings. When Natasha and Alex’s mother and Gabriella and Lorenzo’s father first declared their engagement, the four teenagers didn’t know whether they could make the new family relationship work. After spending time together in the Middle East on the archaeological dig where their parents, Julia and Marcello, work, the four decide they can easily become friends and family.

Following their exciting adventures in the Middle East, Natasha and Alex now can’t wait to go to Gabriella and Lorenzo’s home. Their grandmother, a real contessa, heads the household and runs the grand villa. While Natasha and Alex settle into the easy repartee with their Italian step siblings, the contessa poses as a formidable force. Natasha, especially, doesn’t know whether she would enjoy vising the villa in the future with the contessa in residence.

But the four must endure the contessa’s personality and her plans for the grand engagement party she will throw for Marcello and Julia. To stay out of the contessa’s way the step siblings go sightseeing with Gabriella and Lorenzo acting as gracious hosts. They decide to go canoeing and meet Aldo, a teen running his father’s boatyard. When some mysterious men become aggressive with Aldo, the four agree to do him a favor. The favor sets off a chain of events that lead back to Nazi Germany, stolen art, and a villa resident who goes missing.

Author Caroline Ludovici brings her knowledge of archaeology and history to this second book about four teens who share these fields through their parents’ professions. In this year of the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, Ludovici addresses the art stolen by Hitler’s soldiers. With more and more stories following this current trend, Ludovici ends up in safe writing territory.

She does manage to surprise her target audience with some historical facts. Unfortunately the dialogue drags the story’s pace with too much tell and not enough show. The characters end up talking about their feelings and the actions they will take in the future or have just taken, which may frustrate some readers. Much of the action could have been handled in narration, and at times the excess of historical facts may make readers start skimming.

Despite the overload of history, drawbacks in dialogue, and typos and grammar issues, Ludovici creates four likeable teenagers. Their rapport offers readers a respite from some of the current YA fare where characters spend time undercutting or plotting against one another. While at times they sound younger than their listed ages, readers will definitely relate to some of the issues the four teens face.

With a few more rounds of editing, both structural and mechanical, Ludovici would have a real winner on her hands. I recommend readers Borrow Secrets of the River.