THE SECRETS OF
by Donald Firesmith
Middle Grade Paranormal
ages 9 to 12
Fifteen-year-old Matt Mitchell was having the worst summer imaginable. His misery started when his mother died in a senseless car accident. Matt’s grieving father, unable to remain in the family’s seaside cottage, moved Matt and his twin sister as far as possible from the ocean they loved.
But their relocation to the small town of Hawthorne, Indiana only made Matt’s life more difficult. Three bullies at his new high school dedicated themselves to making him miserable. To top it off, Matt heard that the recluse living in the dilapidated Victorian mansion next door was none other than Old Lady Hawthorne, the town’s infamous witch and murderer of wayward husbands.
Then, Old Lady Hawthorne’s niece and her three children moved in next door, and something extraordinary happened. Matt met Gerallt, the strange boy destined to become his best friend. And when Matt learned the Hawthornes’ family secret, it changed his life forever.
The Secrets of Hawthorne House is the story of an unlikely friendship, the clash of two radically different cultures, hidden magic, and a search for the lost Hawthorne treasure.
While this tale seems to promise tons of spooks and paranormal bumps in the night with some magic thrown in, I was surprised that it runs quite a bit deeper than that.
Due to the death of Matt's mother in a car accident, his family leaves their seaside cottage and heads to Hawthorne, Indiana. But they aren't the only new family there. The house next door is supposedly haunted and creepy...not that Matt understands why. When a family moves in, who's father passed away, it does draw quite a bit of attention, especially since they are a little odd. One of the children does become Matt's best friend. Although things seem to be working out on that end, Matt is faced with bullying at school, and having his best friend's mother always dress in black eggs it on. Matt learns that the family is harboring a secret, and learning what it is adds a whole new twist Matt could have never seen coming.
While many stories run along a direct plot line, this one has a wider spread. While the paranormal aspect and spooky sides are present, they tend to take a back seat to more important lessons. Matt needs to come to terms with his mother's death, deal with bullying, and learns to see past differences to find the true things which build friendship. So, while there are creepy and magical moments, there are also quite a few 'family' scenes. While these do slow the story down somewhat, they allow the reader to really sink into the characters' world. Even an action girl like me enjoyed being drawn in like that.
There are quite a few things to enjoy about this tale. Not only are the messages fitting for the age group, but there is enough adventure and tension to keep it pretty interesting. The author melds in a type of druid-ish magic, which opens up the entire thing with a nice amount of fantasy. Especially the characters are a treat as they are easy to like and root for. I'm didn't find that Matt really fit a fifteen-year-old, as the story places him, as much of his speech and thoughts hit a younger bracket. Even the family situations sometimes didn't fit the teen scene. Plus, some of their dialogue got a bit tedious and could have been tightened up more.
Still, it's a fun read and promises an interesting tale still to come in the rest of the series.