The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (J)

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls  

John Bellairs (Juvenile Fiction)

It’s the summer of 1948.  Newly orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is on a bus headed to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan.  Lewis is only ten years old but lately, only questions seem to plague him.  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  What will happen to me?   But rather than getting answers, only more questions await Lewis upon his arrival.  Questions like why does his uncle prowl the halls after midnight and listen to the walls?  How does the stained-glass window change its image?  Why are there so many clocks in the house?  Soon, all too soon, Lewis will discover the truth behind these questions and he just might not like the answers.

John Bellairs gives young readers a book full of magic, mystery, and mayhem.  At the heart of this story, the author introduces us to a young boy who is alone, unpopular, and an outcast.  Parentless, he yearns for a friend and is willing to do anything in order to acquire one.  In his pursuit for acceptance, Lewis has to make a choice between keeping a friend and keeping a trust.  His decision comes at a cost that proves to be more than Lewis can possibly pay.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a ghost story that is suspenseful without being too scary.  Perhaps the most frightening thing in this book is how our young hero is relentlessly bullied and disdainfully discarded by a neighborhood boy.  Any child who has been excluded from a group or made to feel inadequate because of his or her appearance will certainly relate to Lewis’s unfortunate predicament.  Because of this, Bellairs provides us with a lesson that makes this book well worth the read:  If you have to prove your value just to keep a friend, is that a friend that’s truly worth keeping?

Happy Halloween from The Dusty Jacket.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

 

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (J)

The Underneath

The Underneath  

Kathi Appelt (Juvenile Fiction)

This is a tale of two love stories separated by one thousand years.  The first is of a possessive, jealous, and cruel love.  It is about an enchantress, a king, and a family of three.  The second tale tells of a selfless, devoted, and pure love.  It is about a brave mother, a set of twins, and a gifted but abused blues singer.  But like so many tales, these two worlds eventually collide and when they do, which love will prove to be the strongest?

Appelt offers up a modern-day fairytale that gives readers heroes, villains, magic, mystery, and danger.  Like most fairytales, we can count on the villain getting his comeuppance, the misguided antagonist having a change of heart, and the power of true love winning in the end.  The book has very short chapters and makes for an easy read for younger readers (or an ideal bedtime book to be shared and read aloud).  The story has some instances of animal cruelty, so parents of sensitive readers should be warned.  Also, although Appelt gives us a truly suspenseful tale, it does stall near the middle and needlessly prolongs the action.  At just over 300 pages, this may frustrate some readers, but perseverance has its rewards and a satisfying ending awaits the patient reader.

Time and time again our little protagonists are told to “Stay in the Underneath.  You’ll be safe in the Underneath.”  And true enough, safely tucked underneath this dust jacket is a wonderful tale of devotion, friendship, family, and the importance of a promise kept.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

A Finder’s Magic by Philippa Pearce (J)

A Finders Magic

A Finder’s Magic  

Philippa Pearce (Juvenile Fantasy)

Till goes to bed in despair and wakes up desperate.  So deep is his desperation that you can see it in his dreams.  And one night, someone does see it.  That someone is a Finder.  A Finder that promises Till that he will help him find his beloved lost dog, Bess (for it is her absence that leads to all this unfortunate desperateness).  But finding Bess isn’t easy.  Clues need to be found, witnesses questioned, and leads followed.  Leads that point to a stranger, a thin line of light, and a nursery rhyme.

This book has a rather interesting backstory.  Pearce wrote this book for her two grandsons and it was illustrated by the children’s other grandmother, Helen Craig.  The main character’s name is an anagram of the two grandson’s names put together (Nat and Will) giving us Tillawn or Till for short.  Unfortunately, Pearce died before Craig began illustrating this book and was therefore deprived of seeing the beautiful book that their combined efforts produced.

Pearce gives young readers a wonderful tale of magic, mystery, and mischief.  The story deals with issues of loss and trust and tackles both with charm and humor.  After the book is finished, parents might want to remind their young reader that this is a fantasy book and, under ordinary circumstances, it is never appropriate to go running off with a stranger, especially one who offers to help you find your dog.

In the end, through all the questioning and searching and worrying, Finder gives Till something that replaces his desperation.  He gives him hope and although it’s not what Till wants, it’s what he needs and at that moment, hope is enough.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (J)

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack   

Kelly Barnhill (Juvenile Fantasy)

In the town of Hazelwood, Iowa, everything is neat and quiet and predictable.  Everything, that is, except the deep purple house with its bright green door that sits on the edge of town.  It belongs to Clive and Mabel Fitzpatrick (they’re kooks) and will soon be home to their nephew Jack (he’s a nobody).  But something is happening in the town of Hazelwood.  Something is different.  There’s a buzzing sound that you can hear in the air and feel on the ground.  And there is a sweet smell all about.  Frankie Schumacher is the first to notice it, but he’s usually the first to know most things.  What Frankie doesn’t know is that this newcomer, a boy named Jack, is at the center of everything strange, weird, and disturbing that is happening…again.

Barnhill gives us a story that is full of magic, bravery, and friendship.  The plot gets a little confusing as the reader is provided cryptic clues through old diary entries and postings by Jack’s uncle—both contained in The Secret History of Hazelwood—in order to piece together the bizarre events not only occurring in the Fitzpatrick home, but also around town.  Also, the premise of the story seems a little faulty since we are led to believe that Jack’s character feels “invisible”; however, throughout the book and especially near the end, we see that he is actually being forgotten and not just simply ignored.  This feeling is actually more appropriate in conveying a sense of foreboding and trepidation as the action intensifies and Jack begins to realize the truth about the town and himself.

Overall, I liked that the main characters in this book were loyal, fearless, and chose decency over convenience.  Whether standing up to bullies or corrupted townspeople, they always erred on the side of right, regardless of the consequences they knew they would eventually face.  I do have a slight warning for younger readers or readers that are easily frightened.  There are a few creepy parts in this book where kids get sucked into the ground and have their souls taken so just keep this in mind.  All in all, The Mostly True Story of Jack is a book about trying to feel comfortable in your own skin, trying to fit in, and most of all, just trying to be true to yourself…or mostly true.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com