This mystery by Michael D. Beil is the first book in "The Red Blazer Girls" series and is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.
The Ring of Rocamadour is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Sophie, her best friends Margaret and Rebecca, and the new girl, Leigh Ann, are excited to don their red blazers — a sign that they're now freshmen at St. Veronica's, a school for girls. Their lives consist primarily of intensive study, baby-sitting siblings and pursuing their art and music hobbies, until an elderly woman (Ms. Harriman) enlists their help to solve a mystery. By following a series of clues involving complex math problems, puzzles and questions from literature and the Bible, the girls learn that a valuable artifact — a ring supposedly touched by St. Veronica — is buried in the church next to their school. Several individuals, including Ms. Harriman's ex-husband, her maid and a man working at the church, arouse the girls' suspicion when they seem overly curious about the case. The girls solve the case, retrieve the ring and return the jewelry to its rightful owner. In the process, Sophie learns how to better handle relationships with her friends and Raf, the boy she likes.
The girls believe Veronica (their school's namesake) is the name of a woman in the Bible, although the name itself is not mentioned. In Catholicism, Veronica wipes Jesus' face with a cloth as He carries the Cross. Supposedly, His image is imprinted on her veil, and the fabric then has divine powers. While wandering through the church, Sophie and her friends make fart jokes from the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail. Sophie says she's such a good girl that she actually embellishes her confessions to make them seem more penance-worthy. Raf teases Margaret about having a Bible in her backpack, and she quickly assures him that it's because she has religion homework. Ms. Harriman's father (who planted the clues about the ring) was a leading authority on second- and third-century Christianity. One of his clues leads the girls to Luke 23:24 and a painting depicting Pilate sentencing Christ. Sophie thinks, "Lord, forgive me," for dozing off in religion class. When the girls have a sleepover the night they retrieve the ring, they feel some force (perhaps St. Veronica) has compelled each of them to wake up in the night and put the ring on the finger of one of the other girls so that they can each wish for a miracle.
Sophie's parents work a lot and are frequently away from the house. They do attend her school play, and the family enjoys movie nights together. Mr. Eliot, the girls' English teacher, is a kind, enthusiastic man, who tries to instill a love of literature by hosting an annual skit night where students perform scenes from Dickens' novels. He helps the girls find some of the information they need to solve their case and urges them to be safe and smart while snooping around. He lies to a priest about why he and the girls are in the church. Mr. and Ms. Harriman encourage Sophie and her friends to hone their talents by introducing them to people who can help them improve their skills. When Rebecca fears she'll have to drop out of St. Veronica's because her mother has lost her job, they help her mom get another one. The priests at St. Veronica's, including Fathers Julian and Danahey, show patience and respect for the girls by allowing them to continue their investigation in the church and trusting their motives.
Other Belief Systems
Mrs. Harriman suggests that her cat may be psychic, possibly the reincarnation of her great aunt. She believes karma brought her and the girls together. Margaret pretends to meditate, turning her palms up and chanting, "ohm." Sophie sees a man sneaking out of the church, and she believes it is an ominous sign. Another time, she sees artwork in the church bearing her last name (St. Pierre) and wonders if it is a good omen. The girls say on several occasions that they're going to cross their fingers for luck.
Sophie and her friends use the Lord's name in vain numerous times. They mainly use God's name in versions of Oh my ---, but readers also see phrases like Oh good ---, I wish to ---, --- knows what, etc. D---n and crap also appear frequently in their dialogue. At one point, a priest says holy crap. Less frequent uses of words such as butt, heck, gosh, jeez, bite me and fart can also be found. Rebecca blatantly swears in front of her younger siblings. The girls mock their nemesis, Mr. Winterbottom, behind his back by calling him names, such as "Winterbutt" and "Winterbooty." They also laugh about a word in one of their clues that sounds like ovaries. The girls chat with their teacher's doorman about how much they enjoy gory, "dead teenager" movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Sophie recalls a time when her parents embarrassed Margaret by talking about their first sexual experiences. Raf puts his hands on Sophie's hips in an attempt to demonstrate some of the overly sexy moves kids were trying at a recent school dance. At the end of the book, Raf kisses Sophie once. The church security guard, Robert, is always reading women's magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Booklist Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth, 2009
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- If you had a ring that could grant you any wish, what would you wish for? Why?
- What conclusions does Sophie jump to regarding Leigh Ann? How does she treat Leigh Ann and Raf as a result? Have you ever been sad or angry about something, only to learn later that you had misjudged the situation? What happened?
- How much do Sophie and her friends know about their faith? What are some ways people's lives can show their commitment to Christ?
- How often do the girls use God's name in vain? Why do they do this? Why do people use profanity? What does the Bible say about God's name and how it should be used?
- Which adult characters are the best role models for the girls? Why? Which are the worst? What makes them the worst? Which choices made by the adults in this book might not be the best? In what way is a young person in this book a role model? How is she a good or poor example?
- How does the author incorporate literature, math and other subjects into the plot of this book? What lesson does Margaret learn, partly because of the Great Expectations scene the girls act out, that helps her develop a closer relationship with her grandmother? In what ways can literature and math help you outside of school? How might these subjects help you as you grow older?
- In the process of their investigation, do the girls play by the rules? What do the girls do that may have been disrespectful, dangerous or illegal in their search for the ring? Are there other ways they could have handled these situations, instead of lying, breaking into the church, etc.? What would you have done in their place?
Note: The girls lie to their parents and other adults quite a bit. Sophie says she generally tries not to "out-and-out lie" to her mother because she doesn't feel the need, in light of her relatively good behavior. If she were going to nightclubs, getting tattoos or becoming a Wiccan, she could understand her mother being concerned.
The girls break into St. Veronica's Church and admittedly use peer pressure to get the hesitant Rebecca to join them. They also use a hairpin to open a locked door inside the church.
Several characters, such as Sophie's dad and Raf (when in sixth grade), used to smoke. Sophie's dad stops because his wife is pregnant, and Raf stops because his mother catches and threatens him. Ms. Harriman's maid (Winefred) smokes, and her partner in crime, Mr. Winterbottom, smokes so much the girls call him an ashtray with legs.
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