A spooky adventure mystery that feels like a Hollywood film or TV series.
Eleven year old Hedy is not impressed when her parents – both archaeologists – decide to go on a dig in Spain leaving Hedy and her younger brother, Spencer, with their grandfather. She fully expects it to be the most boring two weeks ever. It’s particularly galling as it’s almost Christmas and there’s a distinct lack of festive cheer at Grandpa John’s. The house is actually full of interesting things but most of the doors are locked and Hedy and Spencer don’t dare to investigate. This changes, however, when the messages start to appear – spooky appeals for help drawn in a dusty picture frame and spelled out using fridge magnets. The messages claim to be from their grandmother who mysteriously disappeared many decades before, and they’re not something Hedy and Spencer can ignore. Instead, they start to sneak through previously locked doors and, as they do, the mystery deepens. Luckily, they find two special friends to help them – a talking Stag’s Head called Stan and a chatty Bear rug by the name of Doug.
As this summary suggests, The House on Hoarder Hill is based on an intriguing concept and the adventure has the feel of a Hollywood film or TV series. This isn’t surprising since this is the debut novel of a screenwriter duo. Indeed, the story is destined for the small screen as TV rights have already been sold.
The book is well written and easy to read, especially the opening chapters, and I’m confident that younger middle grade readers will enjoy the adventure. I suspect Stan and Doug will prove particularly popular, with a lively debate between readers over which of these two unusual characters deserves to be the favourite.
Personally, however, I found the story lacked the depth and characterisation that I would normally associate with a middle grade book of this length. In the 363 pages, I never really felt I got to know any of the child protagonists. One in particular – Hedy and Spencer’s youngest cousin Max – was so dispensable that he disappeared entirely halfway through the book. In contrast, Grandpa John and his brother, Great Uncle Peter, are more well rounded and nuanced and the history between them works well to build the tension and mystery.
I am, perhaps, being a slightly unfair as this is clearly not intended to be a character-driven story. Instead, it is intended as a spooky adventure mystery. Judged on this criteria, it works well. There are some suitably dramatic scenes and the very last line of the book is simply inspired.
If you’re looking for another middle grade story that’s set in modern times with a magical twist, you might want to read The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd. For something more traditionally magical, I’d recommend Shadows of Winterspell by Amy Wilson or The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike.
Publication date: March 2020
Publisher: Chicken House