Book Review: Failure in Philadelphia? by Catherine Jaime

Brief Synopsis: Set in the summer of 1787, a teenage spy reports on the Constitutional Convention.

Failure in Philadelphia? gives a unique perspective on the drafting of the American Constitution. It is aimed at younger readers, and I believe it would be a great teaching tool, especially if used in combination with other resources and lessons on the Constitution. I was able to read it fairly quickly, and the storyline moves along well.

The protagonist, Henry, is a teenage indentured servant who works at a boarding house and tavern in Philadelphia. However, he remains loyal to Great Britain years after the Revolutionary War. After the young country has spent years struggling to function under the Articles of Confederation, the time has come to revise them, and a Grand Convention is called. With this news, Henry is tasked by the British Consul to learn everything he can about what is happening in the Convention and report back to them. This is relatively easy for Henry, as many of the delegates to the convention are staying and eating at the establishment where he works.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of action beyond reporting what was happening at the convention. Most of the book is spent listening over people’s shoulders and repeating things that others said, rather than actually watching and hearing things as they happen. It is very informative and easy to read, but I am unsure whether it would hold the attention of a student who doesn’t particularly like reading. I’m willing to attribute most of my lack of interest to the fact that I was not learning anything new, so perhaps for someone who is just learning about these events for the first time it would be much more interesting and keep their attention.

Overall, Failure in Philadelphia? is a good book. Using the perspective of a young spy gives a creative spin to a well-known narrative, and gently introduces young readers to the events of the Constitutional Convention.


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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