York: The Shadow Cipher - Laura Ruby

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.


I went into this novel knowing literally nothing, other than the fact that I love Laura Ruby and Bone Gap makes my skin tingle. I got sucked in right from the beginning. From the ass-kicking Ava Oneal, to the enigmatic William Covington Hanover, to the mystery-solving Tess, Theo, and Jaime, York hits all the right notes of a great mystery novel. Ruby's delightful prose, peppered with jokes and clues, will be sure to enthral many a young detective!

As many other reviews have noted, York features a diverse cast of characters, many of whom are imbued with a deep sense of social justice and gender equality. I also love that many of the clues and jokes that Ruby includes in the text will likely lead young readers to explore outside of the story (Schrödinger's cat, for instance, shows up on a t-shirt and the resulting conversation will hopefully inspire readers to further research.)

The technology itself is also quite inventive, with many of the robots and such taking the form of insects and animals. The New York featured in the text is also populated with genetically modified animals, two in particular that are main features of the text are a racoon and a very large cat (not just a pet, but a service animal!) I find it really great that Tess has a service animal for her anxiety, showing readers that service animals are not only for those with physical disabilities.

I could go on and on, but I really just think this is an enjoyable and strongly written mystery novel for middle grade audiences. I Highly Recommend this one for school libraries, family reading times, classrooms libraries, and basically any situation where reading a book is the thing to do!

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