This debut novel begins with four children and a building sense of foreboding: an itch, a smell, and a sense that someone who left years ago is coming back—and that’s a bad thing. The four children: Frankie with a knot of scars filling one side of his face from when he disappeared at age eight, then was found and hasn’t spoken since; his protective twin sister Wendy, held close by the traumatic memory of Frankie’s disappearance; Wendy’s best friend, Anders, the youngest of four brothers who has an eerie sense of things; and Clayton Avery, the son of the wealthiest and most powerful man in Hazelwood, Iowa.
Then a fifth child enters, Jack, riding in a rental car with his mother to Hazelwood, Iowa, where he will stay with relatives while his parents work out the details of their newly announced divorce.
The sense that something is amiss is evident from the first page and gathers momentum as the story unravels—something underground is waking up, and children and buildings have a way of disappearing in this town. Even the home of Jack’s aunt and uncle where he’ll stay is odd: ”But the house at the end of the road…well, it was different. More than different. It announced itself. Big, bright flowers and tall, tangled grasses grew wildly in the front yard, with the house rising boldly behind, its edges shimmering in the heat.” The house does a lot more than shimmer. In fact, the whole town is weird.
The story has a slanted feeling as though it takes place inside a sinister fun house mirror. The author reveals and conceals information to pique curiosity and engage readers. The house is hot to Jack’s touch, vegetation tends to wrap itself around Jack’s body when he’s close to it, and Frankie’s scars become redder and angrier. And there are things about Jack’s life that he doesn’t understand. Why are there no pictures of him in his parent’s house? Why have they always acted as though he’s not there? And why do people in Hazelwood know things about Jack’s past that he doesn’t know?
The story unfolds through the use of an omniscient narrator, revealing the history of the place and thoughts of its people as the children come together in a common quest. This story of friendship is creepy in a good way—touching, earthy, full of tension, and imaginative.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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