Federico doesn’t mind being a political hostage in the Pope’s palace, especially now that he has a cat as a friend. But he must admit that a kitten walking into a wardrobe and returning full-grown a moment later is quite odd. Even stranger is Herbert, apparently an art collector from the future, who emerges from the wardrobe the next night. Herbert barters with Federico to get a sketch signed by the famous painter Raphael, but his plans take a dangerous turn when he hurries back to his era, desperate to save a dying girl.
Bee never wanted to move to New Jersey. When a neighbor shows Bee a sketch that perfectly resembles her, Bee freaked out, solidifying her resolve to keep to herself. But then she meets a friendly cat and discovers a mysterious cabinet in her neighbor’s attic. This cabinet leads her to Renaissance Rome. Bee, who has learned about Raphael and Michelangelo in school, never expected she’d get to meet them and see them paint their masterpieces.
The story is so fast-paced that I had to reread the first three chapters before settling into it. It might have had something to do with the story being set in Rome in 1511. Not many middle school books take place during the 16th century.
The book is split into four parts, and the first two parts are spent establishing both Federico and Bee’s worlds. When the two of them finally meet is when the story picks up.
Switching between Federico and Bee’s perspectives, you can tell how different the two are from each other through their narrative style. With a 500-year time gap between them, they have a difference in culture, manners, personalities, and clothing. I loved how these two interacted with each other. Like how Federico thought Bee was an idiot for not knowing what he considered common knowledge.
I found myself more invested in Federico than with Bee. Bee felt like your average present-day female found in any other middle school book. Federico, on the other hand, is a distinctive character. Being the son of a duke, his mannerisms are very different from present-day eleven-year-old boys. He cares about being seen as a gentleman and thinks very highly of himself because of his title.
Like most time-traveling stories, it gets a little confusing at times. I felt that many aspects were left up to the reader to work out. There is a lot of hopping back and forth between 1511 past and 1930 something and 2020 present day. I drew a timeline to figure out the order of events, but it got a little messy.
One thing that baffled me the most was how Herbert doesn’t hide the fact that he’s from the future. He just tells Federico. I think Federico is so desperate for a friend that he doesn’t dismiss Herbert.
Rich in art history and packed with historical figures, both well-known and obscure, this remarkable story is sure to stand out in middle school fiction.