We’re having our first snow of the season today – a perfect time to review a wintery book.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson. Illustrated by Chloe Bristol. Henry Holt, 2018.
Orphaned book-lover Elizabeth Somers lives with her horrible Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap, who make it clear that she’s a burden, even though they don’t really take care of her. (Sound familiar?) When she comes home from school the last day before vacation, she finds she’s been locked out of the house, left with a plastic sack containing a change of clothes, $3, and a bus ticket. She knew they were going on vacation, but had begged to be left home to read in peace.
The bus ride there is mostly peaceful, except for a couple in black also riding on the bus, who keep trying to talk to her and tell her they are booksellers by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Heims.
To her surprise, though, the bus takes her to a beautiful hotel run by a kindly older man, Norbridge Falls. She has a luxurious room, delicious meals are served multiple times a day, and there’s even a large library, staffed by a librarian named Leona, who came for a visit from Uganda and decided to stay. She also befriends a boy her own age, Freddy, who’s been spending holidays at Winterhouse for years while his parents vacation alone in his mother’s native Mexico. Winterhouse even has its own candy – Turkish Delight rebranded to Flurschen – that’s made on-site and packaged and sold around the world.
The family portrait gallery, though, reveals a mysterious side to Winterhouse – women either stay and live to 100 or leave and die young. There are puzzles everywhere, including word ladders at the beginning of each chapter, like this :
A Troubling Note
Mr. and Mrs. Heims get creepier and creepier, and since of course the adults tell her not to worry about anything, it’s up to Elizabeth to figure out what they’re up to and stop them. There’s still plenty of time for learning to ski, doing jigsaw puzzles, and drinking hot cocoa.
This is a cozy winter read that’s meant for puzzle- and book-loving children. Those who enjoyed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (which it references, along with lots of classic children’s literature) may enjoy the puzzle aspect of it, and the mystery in the old, grand house at Christmas is similar to Greenglass House, though this didn’t quite have its depth. Still, for those looking for a blend of light adventure with holiday coziness, this is a good choice.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.
One part that amused me vastly was the “Mystery” of why Elizabeth was asked to check in twice a day with an adult. The kids spend several chapters puzzling over this (and other more mysterious mysteries). I mean, a twelve year old is alone in a hotel, and the responsible adults want to make sure she’s doing OK — what can they be thinking? (Freddie is already working for Mr N, so he’s covered.)
I also found that amusing! But also telling – neither of them are really parented to have any idea of what that would be like.
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