In the early years of the 20th century, a 40-year-old mystery in a dead magician’s crumbling mansion magically changes Clara Dooley’s life forever.
Eleven years old and barely allowed out of the house due to her “weak heart,” Clara and her mother live with ancient Mrs. Glendoveer. Mother nurses the widow and keeps the mansion in mostly working order with the help of cook Ruby. All of them tend the magician’s five surviving birds, of various species, that live in the backyard aviary. When Clara hears the mynah shout “Elliott,” she asks Mrs. Glendoveer who that might be, only to find it’s the name of Mrs. Glendoveer’s baby, who went missing decades before. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies shortly thereafter, Clara discovers that five other children vanished with Elliott; despite the impropriety, Clara begins to investigate with the help of Daphne, her new (and secret) friend from town. O’Dell jumps genres to great effect in this spooky, fantasy/mystery (Agnes Parker… Keeping Cool in Middle School, 2007, etc.). She evokes the period so well that (older) readers might suspect they’re reading a lost collaboration between E. Nesbit and Agatha Christie. O’Dell reveals the mystery and magic incrementally, even as Clara simultaneously discovers her autonomy. Readers seeking instant gratification might not stick it out, but they’ll be cheated out of an action-packed, page-turning finale.
An absorbing mix of talking birds, ghostly messages, kidnapped children, magic spells and tragic family secrets. (Historical fantasy. 9-12)