Young Elizabeth Somers’ predilection for puzzles is put to the test when she spends a Christmas break alone at the enormous Winterhouse Hotel.
Elizabeth, white, an orphan, and a devoted reader, has a recently discovered magical gift of extrasensory awareness and anticipation. When her guardian aunt and uncle depart for a vacation, leaving only a train ticket and three $1 bills duct-taped to the door, Elizabeth embarks on an extraordinary adventure. Guterson provides readers a treat: mean caregivers à la the Dursleys; a vast, luxurious hotel where oddities abound; a new word-puzzle–loving friend, Freddy Knox (with black hair and dark brown skin from his Mexican mother; his father’s heritage goes unmentioned); a shrouded history for Winterhouse; and sinister circumstances. A grim pair of guests, protective of the large trunk they claim is full of books, seem to have Elizabeth in their sights. The hotel’s kindly proprietor, a descendent of the original founder, seems to have his own magical talents. The vast hotel library (run by a Ugandan-born librarian with a bun and a fondness for old-fashioned card catalogs) is full of potential surprises. Guterson keeps his protagonists busy discovering clues to the hotel’s central mystery, a missing book, and the decades-old disappearance of the proprietor’s sister, who apparently dabbled in the black arts. Chapter titles incorporate word ladders that may have young readers trying out this diverting form of puzzle.
Clever and captivating. (Mystery/fantasy. 8-12)