Molly and her brother Kip are looking for a place to call home—or at least a place that’s not an orphanage where they can work for a living. The crumbling old English manor where Molly’s managed to talk her way into a job is probably the least hospitable place they can imagine, but Molly figures that’s a plus when you’re a 14-year-old girl with a disabled brother to take care of. It’s not as though people are beating down the Windsors’ door to work there.
Molly isn’t even sure she wants to work there after the first night, when Kip sees a creepy man in a tall hat going into the house from the spooky tree in the front lawn. But she doesn’t have much choice—her parents aren’t around, and despite the stories she keeps telling Kip, she knows they aren’t coming back. She and Kip are alone in a strange country, and they have to make it work. So she tries to stay focused on her work and ignore the increasingly scary things that keep happening. Then one day she finds her way through the locked door at the top of the stairs, and she finally understands the dark secret of the house and why the Windsors can’t tear themselves away. Molly feels herself lured to the same bleak fate of the Windsors—unless she can be brave enough to face her darkest fears.
What makes it a great readaloud: This is a terrific middle grades take on classic Gothic literature, complete with a spooky old house, a deliciously creepy ghost, and a slow nightmarish unfolding. Auxier has a deft lyrical voice that echoes classic scary tales like Rebecca and The Woman in White, but the story has a steady action pacing that will appeal to tween readers. Kids will identify with Kip, who really wishes he could just be like everybody else, and Molly, who’s taken on adult responsibilities that are really too big for her to face alone. There’s plenty of suspense and drama, but it winds up with a satisfyingly safe and happy ending for pretty much everyone the reader has gotten fond of over the course of the book.
But be aware: This is a spooky, spooky book with a very creepy ghost who wanders around at night stealing pieces of people’s souls and giving them nightmares. Sensitive kids may want to steer clear.
Quotable: “A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.”