Tuesday, July 2, 2013

7 Heart Review: House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

House of Secrets (House of Secrets #1)
Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Trailer: Watch it here!

Page Count: 490
Release Date: 23 April 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Ned!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything: two loving parents, a beautiful house in San Francisco, and all the portable electronic devices they could want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job in the wake of a mysterious incident. Now in dire straits, the family must relocate to an old Victorian house that used to be the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that feels simultaneously creepy and too good to be true.

By the time the Walkers realize that one of their neighbors has sinister plans for them, they're banished to a primeval forest way off the grid. Their parents? Gone. Their friends? A world away. And they aren't alone. Bloodthirsty medieval warriors patrol the woods around them, supernatural pirates roam the neighboring seas, and a power-hungry queen rules the land. To survive, the siblings will have to be braver than they ever thought possible—and fight against their darkest impulses. The key may lie in their own connection to the secret Kristoff legacy. But as they unravel that legacy, they'll discover it's not just their family that's in danger... it's the entire world.

Review


Magic Tree House meets Harry Potter in Chris Columbus's literary debut, which just so happens to be co-written by one of my favorite YA authors, Ned Vizzini. Both Columbus and Vizzini contribute immensely to the story; House of Secrets is swash-buckling action and magical diversion blended with humor and real-life dilemmas that made us fall in love with both authors' works in the first place.

The premise of the eerie Kristoff storybooks coming to life is thrilling and enchanting. I love the fantastical elements including pirates, monsters, and a very wicked witch that each find their way to wreak havoc in the Walker children's lives. This novel is suspenseful and thoughtful to its core, and watching the Walkers grow and face their fears was a wonderful, highly illuminating experience.

Since this book is targeted for younger teenage readers, there are some aspects that I found a bit childish. For instance, the ending is really quick and insta-happy; I would have liked to see a little more struggle—or at least a little more excitement—in the tangled plot's solution. Our three main characters, Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor, are likable, but hardly relatable; they tend to bicker amongst themselves a lot (annoying, but not unrealistic) and afterwards almost immediately come to sappy reconciliation (annoying, and very unrealistic).

As expected from a middle-grade novel, House of Secrets moves very quickly and easily, and has a predictable, victorious flourish of an ending. All the while, I was happy to see darker, more serious undertones plague the situation in which three otherwise unworldly children from our much too comfortable day and age find themselves. The gravity isn't too harsh, and there's always a lesson at the end, so in prevalent Lemony Snicket-esque gloom, I am confident middle-age readers will delight.

Pros


Original premise // Comical // Imaginative cast of fantasy characters introduced // Light, but doesn't skimp on values // Fast-paced // Funny, well-balanced protagonists // Cliffhanger ending 

Cons


No real climax // A bit disorienting... nothing in particular stands out because the story is just a jumble of random events that lead up to a disappointing final "battle" // Idealistic, predictable ending

Verdict


House of Secrets is a rip-roaring, action-packed, child-approvable ride of a novel that still contains sentiments on courage and on the importance of family. Recommended for children ages 9-12, Columbus and Vizzini's adventure-packed collaboration will teach, entertain, and be a hit among young readers, as well as encourage them to believe in the sheer power—and magic—of the written word Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable (x)