Thirteen-year-old twins Felix and Lee live in the same house, but they are kept separate by the Agreement between the shades Death and Memory.
In the west side of Poplar House, where Lee lives with his mother and Memory, there is laughter and fresh baked pie. In the east side, where Felix lives with his father and Death, there is nothing but sadness and cold. Lee is tasked with storing memories in jars tied with colored ribbons. Felix must brew tonics for the sick and dying and collect the life candles that have been snuffed out by Death. A failed attempt at breaking the Agreement has left the boys hopeless. However, when a mysterious death sends Gretchen, a willful neighbor girl, to their door demanding answers of Death, they decide to work with her hoping she may have the key to their release. While Lee’s days are filled with the usual middle school angst, a first crush, and a dangerous bully, Felix’s story is darker. Death is abusive and menacing. He demands perfection and is swift to dole out harsh punishment. Alternating chapters follow each of the twins and Gretchen. The suspenseful plot is unspooled slowly, but the magical elements, evocative, intelligent writing, and ever ratcheting suspense keep it interesting. Human characters seem to be default white.
Love of family is the greatest magic even when faced with the power of Death. (Fantasy. 10-14)