A girl is adopted into a forever home. But will the home adopt her back?
Of all the orphans at Evanshire’s Home for Neglected Girls, 12-year-old Emily feels like she’s the most hated. When a wealthy couple comes to visit the orphanage, Emily is sure they’ll choose a younger, prettier girl with “soft curls and big blue eyes,” just like every other family seems to. To everyone’s surprise, the couple—a Mr. and Mrs. Thornton—chooses Emily without skipping a beat. Almost as quickly, a carriage whisks Emily off to her new home, Blackthorn Manor, and her “different, more beautiful life.” From the outside, the manor (and Emily’s new family) is magnificent. But, inside, the cobwebs and stale scent tell a different story—one tinged with living shadows and bizarre happenings. Determined to turn creepy into homey, Emily dares to learn the manor’s secrets—even as the building seems to want her out. Duga’s middle-grade debut paints a timeless, atmospheric English setting. The slow pace, all chills and spooks, builds a compelling (if a bit derivative) mystery. Third-person narration focalizes through Emily, but weak characterization on all fronts makes plot the clear driving force. The cast is presumed white by default. Though the adoption mainly services the plot, this ghost story scrapes together important themes of belonging and family amid the melancholy of loss.
Good but not haunting. (Horror. 8-12)