Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrations by Jamie Zollars, 373 pp, RL: 5
The Greenglass House by Kate Milford, with superb cover art and spot art by Jamie Zollars is THE perfect book for spending time with over winter break, especially if you live in colder climes. The Greenglass House practically demands that you cozy up in a corner, ideally on a high-backed love seat like the one main character Milo often finds himself tucked into, reading The Raconteur's Commonplace Book or silently observing everyone around him. Then prepare to be challenged, engrossed and completely entertained by this richly layered mystery that reminds me of two favorites from my childhood - Ellen Raskin's Newbery winner The Westing Game and John Bellairs's The House with the Clock in its Walls, which I really need to read again. Interestingly enough, all three of these books have houses that are essential to the plot, and there is just something very special about a book in which a house is a central character.
As The Greenglass House begins, it is the start of winter break and Milo is looking forward to a quiet house. His parents run Greenglass House, an inn atop a cliff in Nagspeake that overlooks the Skidwrack River and is famous for its many, many detailed stained glass windows. The Greenglass House is also known for possibly being the former home of the Doc Holystone, an infamous smuggler who died over thirty years ago leaving behind a house and, seemingly, a town and river filled with secrets. However, this typically slow time of year for the Pines and the Greenglass House is anything but quiet as guest after guest arrives in the dark of night and in curious fashion, one after the other. Milo is put out, but Mr. and Mrs. Pine, consummate inn owners and gracious hosts, jump into action.
Soon, Mrs. Caraway and her adult daughter have arrived to help, bringing along her younger daughter, Meddy, who is Milo's age. With Meddy's tutelage, she and Milo embark on a campaign - an "adventure within a game world." As Meddy and Milo embark on their Dungeons & Dragons-type role playing game, a genuine mystery involving the guests and the house begins to unfold around them. Stories are told, personal belongings are stolen, secrets are revealed and the mild mannered Milo begins to finally find the courage to look inward and admit his greatest, unspoken desire - to know the details of his birth family. The Pines adopted Milo, who is of Chinese descent, when he was an infant and Milo has tamped down his curiosity, fearing it is a betrayal to his parents and also fearing the reasons why his birth parents put him up for adoption.
To this framework, Milford adds layers and layers to the story so that you feel comfortably warm and completely content to spend long hours in the world of Milo, Nagspeake and the Greenglass House, giving depth to a story that, while clearly set in the present day, has a timeless feel to it. A television is mentioned at one point, but there are no electronics on display. Instead, Milo reads, these stories becoming part of the text at times, and characters take turns telling stories about smugglers from times past - and present, my favorite being "The Roamer and the Spector," a brilliant sort of creation myth for a band of gypsies. There are mythical items, some of which may be hidden in the Greenglass House, and talk of "orphan magic," which sets Milo to thinking even more. Add to this the intriguing fact that, just like The Westing Game, The Greenglass House is populated by adults, with Milo and Meddy the only two children in the house, and the book grows even more compelling and amazing.
The ending to The Greenglass House is very satisfying, although I was sad to leave the world that Kate Milford has created. Happily, this is Milford's third novel. The Boneshaker and the sequel, The Broken Lands are both available in paperback. The Kairos Mechanism is a novella that features Natalie Minks, heroine of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands. Bluecrowne, which I just purchased and am SUPER excited to read because it tells some of the backstory of the first inhabitants of the Greenglass House, began life as a Kickstarter project which helped raise the funds needed to self-publish the novella - well, novel, it's 273 pages long - using the Espresso printing press at McNally Jackson, a fantastic independent bookstore in NYC. So cool!
Source: Review Copy