CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 3. . . .September 23, 2016
The book jacket description for The Inn Between reads, “‘The Shining’ meets ‘Hotel California’ in this middle grade novel about the bizarre things that happen when two girls are stranded at a desert inn.” This is a rather unsuitable promotional blurb by publisher Roaring Book Press which is unlikely to hold any significance for 10 year old potential readers who have never seen Jack Nicholson is in his finest maniacal role or who understand what the Eagles were singing about in their Grammy winning song based on a Los Angeles influenced distortion of life. However, The Inn Between does evoke its title in that it drifts nebulously through its pages, missing the mark as a good young adult mystery and never quite materializing as the creepy thriller warranted by the introduction. Actually, the novel takes a rather quirky left turn to emerge as an entirely different kind of story by its conclusion. To fully explain exactly what type of story would ruin the author’s set up for this rather unexpected ending. Despite the ambiguity of its intention, The Inn Between still develops into a satisfactory read for middle schoolers who enjoy an adventurous read, who don’t mind being puzzled, and who are willing to suspend the believable.
The Inn Between opens with 11 year old Quinn joining her best friend Kara, and Kara’s parents and older brother Joshua, on a road trip to Kara’s new home. The summer vacation trip is bittersweet for Quinn, for as much as she enjoys this special time with Kara and her family, she dreads facing next September back at school alone without Kara’s friendship and support.
The story narrative is interspersed with lengthy flashbacks that serve to purposefully further complicate the plot or clarify some of the background details of Quinn’s life. These flashbacks, combined with the present-day conversations in the van, allow readers to begin to develop a sympathetic appreciation for the challenges that Quinn is facing. Readers learn how her learning disability hampers her school success, recognize her perceived lack of support from her parents, and are introduced to a series of mysterious events involving Quinn’s little sister, Emma. When Kara’s parents decide to interrupt their trip through the desert with an unscheduled overnight stop at the Inn Between, events become even more fantastical and twist about in a disjointed storyline that leads the reader to question just what is authentic. Each chapter in The Inn Between unfolds a new vision of reality in which the main characters have difficulty comprehending and escaping. The result of dogpiling the story events is that it is difficult for readers to stay emotionally invested in Kara and Quinn’s situation.
Marina Cohen has written several other middle grade and young adult novels: Shadow of the Moon, its sequel Trick of the Light, Ghost Ride, Chasing the White Witch, and Mind Map (2011), as well as a number of non-fiction titles for Crabtree Publishing.
Cohen writes descriptively and sets the mood for the disquieting nature of the trip. However, each chapter relies too heavily upon foreshadowing, disconcerting chapter endings, and dark clichéd devices, such as vultures, scorpions, and disappearing puddles of blood, in order to keep young readers turning the pages.
The short chapters are also full with unsettling clues that something is not right at the inn where the family decide to stop for the night, such as the absence of technology, the building’s old fashioned décor, a guest book which is dusty and fabric bound, and the forced insincere smiles of the receptionist as she greets them with, “We’ve been expecting you.” It’s all quite macabre which is likely what Cohen, an admitted admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, intended to achieve. Discerning older readers might be able to grasp the significance of unfolding story proceedings, but the whole effect is too much, definitely fantastical, and the ending while offering some clarification is still rather unsatisfying. To extend the friendship bracelet metaphor introduced in the story, perhaps there are just a few too many story elements woven together in too confusing a pattern for the significance of events to be fully recognized and appreciated by younger readers.
The advance preview copy of this novel contains several black and white illustrations of the hotel room and party table. One can only hope that these crudely sketched portrayals of story events will either be removed or replaced with ones that do better justice to extending and enhancing the storyline.
Recommended with Reservations.
Joanie Proske is a teacher-librarian in the Langley School District, Langley, BC.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.