Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 17.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.
It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents. Then the bell rings…
Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book. The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.
Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy. This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered. As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story. About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.
The Pines might find their neighbors a bit odd at times, but they are respectful of differences. It’s hard to make judgments about someone you don’t know, especially when a thief is at work. For example, when Sylvester meticulously cleaned the dining area, was he acting out a compulsion or hiding evidence?
Milo also remarks repeatedly on how the visitors from Liberty don’t make assumptions about his relationship with his parents and aren’t surprised or scared by the weird happenings at Greenglass House. There are elements of this book that lead into the third Greenglass book (which takes place in 1812), but it also leaves open enough questions that there could be a third book set in this time period, hopefully one delving deeper into the Liberty!
Most of the new visitors are part of a group called the Waits, who go around caroling and carrying forward traditions. The main ones here are the first footer – a chimney sweep – and the hobbyhorse – a sort of horse skull costume with ribbons that does pantomine but doesn’t talk.
The story states that these were based on British traditions, and at one point a character remarks that she was accidentally given a US coin in change, so Nagspeake is definitely not located in either country. In the author’s note, Milford tells us that she was partly inspired by The Dark is Rising, a well-known British Christmas fantasy.
As with the first book, this is set during Christmas but not explicitly religious. In fact, this book even more so than the first would probably be a good fit for non-Christian celebrators of Christmas. It would probably be readable alone, but since knowledge of the returning characters is assumed, this series would be better read in order.
In my last review, I didn’t discuss the art very much, but besides the cover, Zollars does a frontispiece and unique opener illustrations for each chapter. The continuity is helpful to the reader – I am always irked when interior illustrations differ greatly from the cover. In particular, the depiction of Greenglass house is not only compelling, but also accurate to what the novel describes. The cover of this book is just perfect. There were points where I wished the story had more illustrations, but of course that would make it longer and doesn’t really fit with a middle grade format.
While there are some scary moments, the suspense in this is less personal and the horror is more magical in nature. There are some tense points, but Milo is not in as much danger. This book has more romance than the first as well, with an engaged couple, other young adults flirting, and Milo awkwardly talking to a girl around his age. Everything is still MG appropriate.
I honestly can’t decide if I like this one more than the first book in the series, or if I prefer the first. This one is definitely more fantastical with clear magical elements beyond just the ghosts and the setting. But the balance is that the mystery is a bit less clear and compelling. In both books, however, the world of Nagspeake is rendered in gorgeous detail, and the narration rings true to my ear. Recommended.