And the book also has a fantastic premise, which involves a mysterious—and occasionally creepy—ancestral estate, a long-lost treasure, hidden passageways, dark family secrets, a masquerade ball, people who may or may not be unstuck in time, and yes, a love triangle. Fittingly for a book about family history and the importance thereof, the book itself has an interesting background: According to Scholastic’s press release, it was started as a teleplay in the 1990s by author Kelly Moore, but she set it aside when development fell through. Decades later, her daughters Tucker and Larkin Reed found the manuscript while researching the family’s genealogy* and convinced their mother to revisit it. The three of them not only turned it into a novel, but into the first in a trilogy.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on Lili Peloquin's 'The Innocents.'
Considering that background (and the number of authors), it isn’t all that surprising that the book’s first quarter suffers from a mild identity crisis**. Our heroine, almost-16-year-old Sarah Parsons, starts her story off sounding more like a middle-aged woman than a teenage girl. To some degree, that can be explained by the brief Looking Back to Yesteryears prologue, but at some point, she seems to throw her middle-aged self by the wayside. Which is a relief, as her older self sounds so self-consciously Trying to Be Literary and Deep that she evokes V. C. Andrews—almost never a good thing. While I’m discussing the book’s issues, it should be noted that the offensive Magical Negro and Magical Differently-Abled Person tropes both make appearances, though it’s clear that the authors did try to sidestep them—with varying results—and that there are two instances of the same descriptive sentence (“He shrugged with his mouth.” 134, 205) used in regards to two different characters***.
Despite those problems, once Sarah’s voice jells (and if you can look past the Magical People thing), Amber House gets REALLY FUN. The mysteries surrounding the house—Is it haunted? Why does madness plague the women of the family? Why is Jackson always prepared for completely unexpected circumstances? What happened to make Sarah’s mother so... awful?—pile up thick and fast, and her regular-old-I’m-a-15-year-old-girl trials and tribulations provide a nice counterpoint to all of the woo-woo. Sarah’s a likable heroine, believably frustrated by her mother and unreservedly devoted to her younger brother. She’s definitely not one to, say, deliberately lose a regatta in order to let someone else win, even if he IS totally hot. The mysteries are complex and multilayered, never overexplained or Done to Death, and seeing the ripple effect of actions and consequences is really, really... neat. It’s good stuff, and the big twist at the end means that the sequel is likely to pick up again with some extremely cool material.
**It should be noted, though, that I read an advanced copy, so it’s certainly possible that the finished copy is different.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.