In a sleepy town 50 miles south of London, a young boy and his sister travel through time to find their lost dog in this debut novel.
When her beloved dog, Buddy, goes missing, a young girl named Addy sets off looking for him across her neighbor’s garden. While searching, Addy sees Buddy slip through a passageway created by a mockingbird. Before she can retrieve him, the passage closes up, leaving behind a gold coin. When she tells her parents what she saw, they think she’s covering up her theft of the coin from their neighbor Alan Westing, an antiques collector and renowned physicist. Addy’s parents decide she must work off her misconduct by spending the summer tending his castle gardens while her brother Colin supervises. As the summer progresses, mysterious happenings around the castle lead Colin to believe Addy’s original story, and the two set off to reopen the portal. The cast of characters snowballs as the story moves through different dimensions. It’s in these time jumps that the plot begins to muddle. In Colin and Addy’s reality, Alan Westing’s academic research on string theory draws interest from an unnamed villain who will stop at nothing to get his hands on Westing’s findings. This tangent takes on a pedantic tone that expounds upon scientific theories about time travel, removing the reader from the central narrative. Additionally, uninspired place names (e.g., Caves of Never) and onomatopoeia-heavy action sequences detract from an otherwise well-conceived fantasy world with lovable characters, some of whom are brought to life with black-and-white illustrations. As the siblings explore the far corners of an alternate world, the big reveal of the titular gatekeeper is as satisfying as the interplay of box office–level thrills and tender character study.
Readers will be guessing until the end in this successful friendship-filled adventure.