What is behind the bookcase? A black tunnel that is a secret portal to an adventure for a girl and her younger brother.
When Sarah’s family arrives at her grandmother’s house to get it ready to sell, strange sounds and sensations begin immediately. As she’s packing boxes, Sarah discovers an unfinished letter from her grandma with the words, “Strange things are happening behind the bookcase.” Of course, Sarah investigates the tunnel and lands in Scotopia, which is ruled by the talking King of the Cats, Balthazat. She becomes the key figure in a battle of good versus evil as dangerous creatures attempt to foil Sarah’s efforts to keep the malignant cat from unleashing the sleeping souls locked inside the house. The fantasy characters are inventive: an enormous hand on legs called Lefty; sentinels whose eyes and mouths are stitched shut and carry heads for lanterns; a boy with half his face missing; and a giant bat with a boy’s face. However, the humans are stock figures, and plot elements are derivative. The black-and-white drawings attempt to be Gorey-esque but fail to meet that standard.
Though the title and cover are promising, the writing is muddled with too many conveniently trumped-up figures. Stick with any of John Bellairs’ books for a skillful gothic tale. (Fantasy. 8-12)