It may be almost Christmas, but I’m still focused on my Cybils reading. Here’s one from Irish author Pádraig Kenny that strikes a balance between scary, adventuresome, and thoughtful.
The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny. Illustrated by Edward Bettison.
Henry Holt, 2021
Read from library copy.
Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
Mirabelle, who at least appears to be around 12, lives in the hidden manor of Rookhaven. She is out feeding bones to the manor’s guard flowers as the story opens, and terribly excited to learn that a new member of the family may soon be joining them. Jem and her very ill older brother Tom have lost both their parents in the war (we get a first clue of time here) and are scrounging enough ration tickets to eat and make their way across the country, away from their abusive uncle. When their car runs out of petrol, they somehow see a hole in the world leading to a beautiful manor where they hope they can find refuge, at least for a little while.
There is immediate tension when they arrive. Outsiders should not be in Rookhaven. But Mirabelle is convinced that helping people who have nowhere else to go is the right thing to do, even if it puts all of them in danger. Jem and Tom are warned not to leave their rooms at night, and especially not to go near Piglet’s room. But the walls around Rookhaven are not just there to protect the people of the surrounding village from its unusual residents, but also to protect the residents from outsiders who might wish them harm.
They are just trying to navigate this tricky situation when a new man arrives in the village. The butcher who supplies Rookhaven with its meat is happy to give him a room – but his son has seen an improbably large mouth and too-sharp teeth behind the friendly smile…
We might want to call the residents of Rookhaven monsters, but anyone at all might turn into a monster if convinced. Or perhaps, knowing about others’ hidden pain might help us to see humanity even in those we thought were monsters.
Edward Bettison’s engraving-style illustrations highlight the creepy, vintage nature of the story, with the same images used multiple times like musical themes to highlight specific places and characters. The beautiful art, real physical danger, family relationships of multiple kinds, mysteries and monsters combine with deep themes of understanding to make a truly impressive book. It looks like the sequel, The Shadows of Rookhaven, is out now in the UK and I’m hoping will be out in the US in the next year as well.