When Theodora Tenpenny's grandfather dies, he leaves her to take care of their house and her mother - and his famous last words (see the title) that will help her solve a mystery that will allow her to better understand her grandfather and herself. When Jack tells her to look "under the egg," she knows exactly what he's talking about. Jack was a painter, and the centerpiece on their fireplace is one of his - a painting of an egg. Every day, she and Jack would select an egg from their hens to go in front of it, a tradition she continues as she tends the garden, cleans the house, and makes meals for her mother, who is constantly absorbed in her mathematics. Now with no income from her grandfather, their garden, Theodora's scavenging skills, and the $484 in grandpa Jack's money jar are their primary resources - a problem when her mother has no income and enjoys fine teas from next door neighbor Mme. Dumont's tea shop. So Theodora is certain that her grandfather has left something for them to support themselves, because that's what her grandfather was like.
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As she is searching the fireplace, she accidentally drops some rubbing alcohol on the egg painting, and finds it comes off quite easily. Underneath is a beautiful painting that resembles a Virgin and child Italian Renaissance work of art by Raphael. Through her grandfather, Theodora has learned a lot about art, and knows this work is worthy of attention.
With her newfound friend Bohdi (the rich, tech-saavy, unschooled daughter of 2 film stars, who just happened to be in the diner when the owner saw Theodora and invited her in for free food), Theodora sets out to do some research. Both are convinced that the egg painting hiding the painting underneath is a sign that it is significant.
First, They find a female episcopalian priest helps them evaluate the iconography and translate a Latin inscription. Then the new librarian, Eddie (who has a tattoo on his arm), helps them find some appropriate books and some information about Theodora's grandfather, who she has just learned (since his death) served in the second world war. During Bodhi's two week hiatus on a trip with her family, Bodhi reads up on painting authentificafion online, and Theodora looks for clues within her books.
Based on her research, Theodora is even more convinced it is a genuine Raphael, because it matches in style and everything else. Bodhi returns set on x-raying the painting to see if their are clues in the lower layers of paint. She sneaks them into an emergency room and finagles her way into some x-ray photos. They find out that the woman has a ring on her ring finger, corresponding with what other researchers found on another painting of Raphael's mistress, a baker's daughter, who often served as a model for him. There is also a man in the painting between the woman and child where the upper layer of paint shows a tree. At first, they think it is Joseph.
On a trip to the museum, Theodora figures out that the feel of the painting - the less idealized, real expressions on the faces - correspond more exactly to Raphael's portraits. She also finds a self-portrait of Raphael. The painting is actually a self-portrait. The woman was not a mistress as many would have wished the public to think, but his secret wife. The little boy, logically, would be a son.
A few more stops at a community center, the library (where Theodora receives more information on her grandfather's record), and a war veteran are required to fill in almost all the holes. Her grandfather was in a war camp, where he met the owner of the painting. He promised the painting to a Nazi officer in return for getting his daughter, Anna, to safety. The Nazi officer takes Anna to safety, Anna's father dies in the camp, and the Nazi officer commits suicide while on trial for war crimes. So logically, the painting should belong to Anna.
During the museum trip, "Uncle Lydon," her grandfather's old boss, had figured out that Theodora has this possible Raphael painting. He assumes it must be stolen from somewhere. When he comes with a warrant to search the house, Bodhi and Theodora slip it past a secret doorway into Mme. Dumont's closet. When they return to retrieve it, they find her crying over the painting, which she remembers from her childhood. She is Anna. The mystery is solved. She absolves Theodora's mother of tea debt, and allows her tea whenever she wishes. Theodora later returns to the fireplace and finds a letter from Grandfather Jack that explains it all, and some inheritance to help them live.
Best part of story, including ending:
Under the Egg is written in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading, and also incorporates a lot of information about European art and about World War 2.
Best scene in story:
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Grandfather Jack's experiences during World War 2.
Opinion about the main character:
Theodora is curious, responsible, loves art, and has an awesome garden in her backyard (including a chicken that is named after her). She does have trouble giving up the painting when the time comes, but understandably so, and she finds what she needs to take care of herself and her mother.