For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.
But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.
Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.
DISCLAIMER: I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED AUGUST 28, 2018
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a middle grade book, since I mostly read YA nowadays, but I am SO GRATEFUL that I received a copy from NetGalley, because this was a delight.
For starters, I feel like the cover totally matches the autumn after dusk young mystery vibe that this book has going on (not to mention it’s a super photogenic cover, dang!). It’s atmospheric that way from the get-go, not nearly as atmospheric as some other books I’ve loved, but appropriately atmospheric in a way that suits an MG book.
The other aesthetically neat thing is that the chapter POVs are marked by a simple doodle of the character in question! Felix and Lee’s doodles are visible on the cover (Felix is the one with the eye patch on the top half, Lee is on the bottom half), and Gretchen’s POV also has a lovely little illustration.
But onto the plot! I was really impressed with the pacing, since it moves at a good clip, introducing little bits and pieces that make you ask further questions. Why are the Vickeries and Whipples enemies? How did the Agreement come about? What happened to Essie Hastings? It isn’t very heavy on the subplots, and I love intricate subplots, but before I could be disappointed with that, I remembered it’s MG, and everything feels just right for that.
Possibly my favorite thing is the concept, though. From the summary, I wasn’t exactly sure what it means for the Vickeries to serve Memory and Death, but once the book got into it, I was really, really impressed! There are Shades (Memory, Death, and Passion) for every town, and they need human apprentices in order to carry out their work. Typically, they steer clear of each other, which is part of what created the Agreement the Vickeries are bound by. On top of that, the way Lee and Felix negotiate the Agreement and the expectations Memory and Death have for them is really well done. They’re kids, and what matters most to them is their family.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the last minute, sort of awkward romance between two of the characters. It just felt out of place and in the context of a narrative so focus on family and friendship despite the obstacles, it felt like it was too much.
Other than that, though, The House in Poplar Wood was an amazing read, and I’m so glad I got the chance to check it out. If it sounds like something you or a family member would enjoy, you can preorder still, and it releases on August 28th, just in time for some solid fall storytelling!