My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel is utterly charming, and equally unnerving. Penni Russon’s writing is deft, with a light touch. That is not to say it is lightweight, rather it is lyrical and beautiful to read. In the very first paragraph, where we meet four-year-old Sibbi, this lilt of language is to the fore:
Shadows of gum trees grow long across the paddocks. Light is low and syrupy. The light of time shifting: day into evening, summer into autumn.
The reader is immediately transported; they can picture the golden, oozy quality of the sunlight with the gum trees casting long shadows, and know they are in rural Australia. The landscape is very important in this story – firstly in Australia and later, when the family moves, in England. It is closely tied to the family, their fortunes and their feelings.
When the struggling Outhwaite family inherit a large, old, creepy house in London, they move – some of them reluctantly – to take possession of it, looking for a new life and a new home. What they don’t know is that the house contains something sad and angry. Something kept secret for years, and little Sibbi seems to know what it is. Resident ghosts Almost Annie and Hardly Alice observe the family and occasionally interact with them, worrying from the sidelines if they will be safe from whatever is in the locked attic room.
We see the action in this novel through the eyes of several family members: Sibbi, who is lost and sad; Else, who is trying to find out exactly who she is; Clancy, who loves nature wherever he is, and makes an unexpected connection with the fabulous Pippa; and the ethereal Almost Annie and Hardly Alice, who have been with the house a long time. We also see Mr and Mrs Outhwaite failing to cope with change, particularly Mrs Outhwaite, and the drain this imposes on the rest of the family, especially Sibbi and the twins Oscar and Finn, who are often afterthoughts in family life.
This book deals with real emotions and dilemmas in a situation that becomes increasingly ominous, as Sibbi keeps repeating “I know what an endsister is”, and starts to fade away before her family’s eyes. No more details, because I don’t do spoilers, but this book has a great story arc, with a slow build and a deeply satisfying conclusion. I loved it – you will too.
For ages 12 and up.