Hugely imaginative and an enjoyable read!
Almost twelve year old, Maddie lives with her mother and little brother Tom. Life is tough for the family, for Maddie’s father walked out on them some years earlier shortly after Tom was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Tom is very ill and needs a lot of care. Fortunately Maddie loves her brother dearly and does all that she can to help.
When the run-down dilapidated house across the street is incredibly transformed in a few short hours, Maddie is convinced that something magical must have happened. None of her neighbours have seen the new owner and while their interest in the miraculous transformation wanes, Maddie remains intrigued. On her twelfth birthday, the new owner, Bartholomew, an elderly gentleman, introduces himself, and he seems as interested in getting to know Maddie as she is in finding out about the house.
Could all this interest be connected to the mysterious old box full of strange figurines that Maddie found while helping her mother clear out her father’s belongings? It seems that some of Maddie’s family are in a lot more danger than she knew. Maddie has a chance to save them but how far is she prepared to go to do so?
I enjoyed this Middle Grade story, and absolutely loved the explanation for the mysterious box – it is highly imaginative, and I felt a world of adventuring possibilities open up before me as I read the book. I loved the concept of the Gatekeeper, a fantastic idea, and I would love to read more stories set in this world, preferably with Maddie as the gatekeeper.
Maddie is a really likeable heroine. She is self-reliant, makes friends easily but doesn’t depend on them, and is a very kind and loving child, thoughtful and considerate. She is also extremely brave and unselfish.
Part of the story is told through the eyes of an adult, and I would much preferred to have remained with Maddie’s perspective. This is a portal fantasy with a complex world, and I would have loved Maddie to have a little more agency in discovering the world. It’s still a good read, though, and the book is full of things I’d have loved as a child (and still do!).
The story is engagingly written and flows well. I am familiar with some of the author’s adult fiction, so I wasn’t surprised this was so well written. I loved the description of the Japanese knot-weed which covered the neighbour’s path and how “If your foot caught on it, it would trip you up and if you tried to clear it with your hands, it kept on pulling, like hair down the plughole.” Or “..Dad’s old leather chair, the surface of which now flaked like sunburned skin” Or “..she pictured Miss Willis’s body lying there, cold and grey, her cats purring round her, willing her to get up”. I could quote a lot more phrases I loved but better for you to read the book.
This is a lovely fantasy, with a lot of heart, a great concept, and an endearing heroine. I liked it a lot.
7 diamonds out of 10!