Today I’m honored to be participating in the blog tour for Elana K. Arnold’s latest book, The House that Wasn’t There.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California.
And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood
between his house and the one next door.
That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves
into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts the tree down.
Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.
As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together.
At least not without each other’s help.
Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold returns with an unforgettable story of the strange, wondrous threads that run between all of us, whether we know they’re there or not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.
The House That Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold. Walden Pond Press, 2021. ISBN 978-0062937063. Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Alder and his mother have lived alone in their cozy house in southern California ever since his father’s death years earlier. His father was a famous folk singer, nicknamed Canary, and he and his mother still enjoy listening to the records (yes, on vinyl) of him singing, the record player kept under a picture of the family under the walnut tree that divides their property from the house next door. He is convincing himself not to be worried that his best friend hasn’t contacted him all summer, but is convinced that things will be all right again as soon as they start sixth grade together.
The house next to his has always been empty, but that soon changes as a new family moves in.
Oak is very unhappy that her family is moving from San Francisco, leaving their home and all her friends behind. Even her father has stayed behind to wrap things up there before joining them. She is angry with everyone, and especially so when her mother has the walnut tree cut down to make room for an addition to the house.
Naturally, none of this puts Alder and Oak on an obvious path to friendship – but rocky though their start is, the book chronicles their path to friendship. It is filled with many believable struggles, like Alder’s pain when he realizes that his best friend has truly moved on and Oak’s resentment at her mother not treating her feelings as needing to be part of family decision-making. But there is also the charm of kittens, a goofy stuffed opossum named Mort, and a house in between Alder and Oak’s that is only sometimes there. I also loved that Alder is a knitter (even if he seems to knit at superhuman speed) and that he grows more comfortable with claiming that publicly.
And since I often review fantasy books, let’s take a little time to talk about the magic in this story. It is the subtle kind, only sometimes there if you happen to catch it in the right light, rarely or never there if you look at it straight on. It is never explained outright and only rises to the surface a few times. It’s neither the full-on definable magic system of a traditional fantasy nor the subtle but ever-present magic of magical realism. Still, it adds a lovely sheen, definitely pulling moments of the story out of the everyday and helping the characters to see the miraculous in everything.
This heartwarming story of friendship and family is perfect for those who are open to the magic of the everyday.
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