CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 29. . . .March 28, 2014
Fourteen-year-old Molly and younger brother Kip face an uncertain future. They have recently lost their parents while escaping the Irish famine aboard a ‘coffin ship’. Now they find themselves at the doorsteps of a bizarre, decaying Victorian manor, hoping to be hired on as servants to the Windsor family. Neighbouring villagers speak of the woods surrounding the house fearfully and are reluctant to give the children directions to the Windsor’s home, believing it is cursed. The two arrive at the home to discover that a huge, ancient tree has grown into the very house in which the family lives. Unexpectedly, most of the family is not pleased to see them. The two were hired by a lawyer in a nearby town, and Mistress Windsor didn’t expect them and does not want them there. But Molly has a talent for spinning spell-binding stories. So charming are her stories, in fact, that they have the power to sway the listener to her bidding, and the two are hired on.
Molly initially notes Mistress Windsor’s ‘fine appearance’ and health, but, in fact, each member of the family’s health has been declining, and continues to decline, seemingly as a result of living in the decaying home. Molly is ordered to care for the house and prepare the meals while Kip is relegated to sleeping in the stables and caring for the grounds. But he is forbidden to so much as touch the ancient tree. It isn’t long before the two orphans begin to experience the same general decline in their health as the Windsor family, and accompanying nightmares.
One night, Kip sees a tall, dark man in a hat watering the tree with a brimfull watering can. Following the specter’s thumping footsteps inside the house, the two children observe him mopping the brow of a feverish, sleeping Alistair and wringing the rag into a watering can. What is the man doing? Is he harvesting their dreams? Or something even more precious? And what is behind the locked green door that the family is so desperate to keep to themselves?
In his follow up to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Auxier has written another utterly unique, page-turning Gothic thriller, one filled with engaging and unique characters and into which is woven a moral tale about greed and the power of storytelling. Molly and Kip are strong, closely-bonded siblings who have survived famine, ship-wreck, and the loss of their parents. With the belief that hard work and a sense of humour will guide them in the world, they begin to unravel the ancient curse that surrounds the house and family. Surrounding them are strong secondary characters, perhaps the most entertaining of which is Hester Kettle, an enigmatic, wandering storyteller around whom Molly is distinctly uncomfortable. Ultimately, it is a gift from Hester that will guide the children’s future at novel’s end.
In an “Author’s Note”, Auxier cites multiple inspirations behind his work, including authors Ray Bradbury and Washington Irving, as well as horrifying examples from history like the Great Famine in Ireland and the “coffin ships” in which desperate families sought a new beginning in the Americas.
Canadian author and screenwriter Jonathan Auxier’s debut novel, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, was a finalist for the Monica Hughes Award, and it was a Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards Honour Book. He currently lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter and teaches creative writing and children’s literature.
Breaking news: The author’s website states that he has optioned this book for a movie: “The one problem was that selling the movie meant I had to completely re-write the last half while on book tour. I finished last night!” -Can’t wait!
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.
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