|York: The Shadow Cipher|
By Laura Ruby
The first thing that will strike you about this book is its cover. It’s the city of New York but in an astounding alternate universe where machines transform themselves and seem almost alive; where the subway (called the Underway) goes both above and below ground and zings riders through a glorious cityscape; and where the United Nations has been replaced by the “Embassy of the Five Hundred Nations, flying the colorful flags of First Nations from the Abenaki to the Comanche, Pawnee to the Sioux.” (p. 153)
In this mesmerizing atmosphere, three 13-year-olds, Theo and Tess (twins) and their neighbour Jaime, are being evicted from their apartment building at 354 W.73rd Street. Actually, everyone in the building is being evicted and it will be torn down.
The building, and in fact, much of the New York in this novel was designed and built in large part by the Morningstarrs, siblings who lived in the early 1800s. Their minds led to the animated present-day New York.
But the Morningstarrs left something behind besides the city and all its machines; they left the Old York Cipher, a kind of code, that’s been unsolvable for 150 years. Legend has it that whoever solves the cipher will find a treasure. But Theo, Tess and Jaime are hoping that it could also save their home.
The three friends set out on an adventure to solve the cipher, taking great risks as they go. They ride an out-of-control Underway car and explore a long-forgotten tunnel under New York. They are desperate to save the place they have lived all their lives and will go to great lengths to do it. But can they? Or will they go too far and lose both their home and their lives?