Review: Greenglass House

“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.

Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone.  But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall.  So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…

Greenglass House cover resized
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list.  First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse.  The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog.  But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse.  Then I got the book and started reading.

Now, this is a book by an adoptive parent, not an adoptee.  I cannot speak to that POV (if you are an adoptee with a review of this book, please let me know so I can link to it).  But it seems that Milford has been listening to the many adult adoptees who are generous enough to share their experiences and educate the rest of us.

Milo is a transracial adoptee – he’s the Asian child of white parents.  This is not the main focus of the story, but it’s not ignored either.  Throughout the book there are points when it comes up, and Milo is struggling a bit with the idea of his identity – he doesn’t know his birth parents.  He also faces microagressions as people often assume that his adoption was international, even though he was born and has always lived in Nagspeake.

It also was not initially clear from the blurb if this was a mystery or a fantasy.  While reading the story, it starts out rather like a mystery as well, and this first volume has even won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery!  Initially the only fantastical elements are the setting and the role-playing game Milo starts to get interested in.

The second book in this series (review forthcoming) is definitely closer to what I’d think of as fantasy.  So these could be a good introduction to mystery for fantasy lovers, or a nice first fantasy for mystery readers.

This is a Christmas book, but not exactly religious.  Milo and his family (and some of their guests) celebrate with decorations, exchange presents, put up a Christmas tree, and eat traditional foods.  However emphasis is more on the secular trappings of the season, and this does not go into the religious beliefs of Christians.  Of course appropriate for anybody who celebrates Christmas, but I think this would also be fine for anybody who lives in an area where the holiday is typically celebrated or just doesn’t mind a book set during the holiday.

A lot of the book centers around young visitor Meddy who introduces Milo to an RPG called Odd Trails.  They spend a lot of time developing characters, and when suspicious events start, sneaking around the house investigating.  We also get excerpts from something called The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book – a collection of interconnected short stories that another guest lends Milo.  These pieces are woven into the story seamlessly, and I was highly impressed by the depth and detail of Milford’s worldbuilding.

Greenglass House title page resized
The opening page of Greenglass House includes a frontispiece.

As my regular readers know, I typically read fiction books at least two times before reviewing.  Although I knew the resolution to the mystery, it was such fun reading this a second time to check out all the clues and misdirection Milford seeded throughout the novel.

There are incidents of violence and a gun.  I felt they were reasonable for the plot and not overdone, but you might want to preview for young or sensitive readers.  While there are some warm fuzzy moments, this is not a cozy mystery/fantasy.

I’d recommend it.  While the chapters are long and the transition between real life and character names might confuse some readers, it still worked pretty well as a family read aloud.  This would also be a great holiday gift for avid lovers of fantasy and mystery.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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