Friday, November 27, 2015

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, 2014

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A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer series.
It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

(384 pages)

I remember when this first came out last year, when everyone was talking about it. I thought it looked really good, and told myself I'd read it someday, and then promptly forgot about it. Two weeks ago I was reading through my Goodreads TBR list and thought to myself, "I should totally read this!"

And then I forgot again.

And then my mom went to the library without me, and she brought home one random book that she'd pulled off the MG bookshelves for me. And you know what book it was? This one. It was Greenglass House, the book I'd just forgotten about for the second time. Some coincidence, huh? Well, I'm glad things worked out for me to read Greenglass House, because it's definitely an interesting gem of a book.

It's got that cozy, closed-in feeling that only comes from a book set during a massive snow-storm. Then it's got all those layers of mysteries and hidden motives, which reminded me a lot of an Agatha Christie novel. Then there was a layer of history tied throughout the novel, tying it back to events from throughout the house's past, which was pretty cool.

The big reveals, on the whole, were pretty original and interesting (though maybe not completely believable), and I was completely shocked by the big twist at the end. At the same time I really liked it - and was way impressed with Milford for barely making me suspect anything! - and was kind of weirded out by it. I can't really say anything else about that without spoiling it, though. A few of the smaller reveals, the ones about the characters, did feel a little bit contrived, but I just took them with a grain of salt. It's the sort of book where you can just kind of roll with things, accepting everything that comes. Fact and fiction and fantasy all sort of blend together until you're picking through and figuring out what's real and what's lies - and what is and isn't possible inside the novel's universe.

I really liked that Milo was struggling with being adopted. Too often I read about orphans or foundlings or castaways; here I got the opportunity to read about a boy who has loving parents, and is really just struggling like any kid to find his place in the world. Reading the author's note in the end, it was pretty cool to read about how she and her husband are in the process of adopting a child from China. It's clear that Milford was using Greenglass House to depict the message she wants to send to her future son or daughter: that it's okay to wonder about your birth family, that it's natural to yearn for your own heritage, and that you can daydream about having a family tree that stretches back farther than one generation without being disloyal to your adoptive parents. If I was adopted, I would get a lot out of Greenglass House - though I might not like it very much. People don't usually like books that hit too close to home.

Do I recommend Greenglass House? I think so. It's a little strange, though, and I'm still not sure what I think about the plot-twist-which-I-cannot-reveal. It's kind of creepy, and changes the tone of the entire story in hindsight. The book's an odd little gem, though, and despite its flaws I'm glad I read it.

Also, now I really want to look up the game Odd Trails, which Meddy and Milo play throughout the game. Does anyone know if this is a real thing?

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