Monday, July 13, 2020

Review: The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins

by Hayley Chewins
Candlewick Press
Middle Grade Fantasy
200 pages
ages 8 to 12


A riveting middle-grade fantasy about sibling bonds, enchanted houses, and encroaching wildness, lyrically told in eerily beautiful prose

The grass grew taller than the house itself, surrounding it on all sides. It stuffed the keyholes and scraped against the roof. It shook the walls and made paintings shiver.

Seven years ago, the Ballastian sisters' parents left them in the magical Straygarden Place, a house surrounded by tall silver grass and floating trees. They left behind a warning saying never to leave the house or go into the grass. "Wait for us," the note read. "Sleep darkly." Ever since then, the house itself has taken care of Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine--feeding them, clothing them, even keeping them company--while the girls have waited and grown up and played a guessing game: Think of an animal, think of a place. Think of a person, think of a face. Until one day, when the eldest, fourteen-year-old Winnow, does the unthinkable and goes outside into the grass, and everything twelve-year-old Mayhap thought she knew about her home, her family, and even herself starts to unravel. With luscious, vivid prose, poet and author Hayley Chewins transports readers to a house where beloved little dogs crawl into their owners' minds to sleep, sick girls turn silver, and anything can be stolen--even laughter and silence.



Mystery and magic meet the dark and strange in this grabbing read, which searches for the true meaning of sisterly love.

Three sisters were left in a magical house with orders from their parents never to open the front door until they returned. Seven years have gone by and the oldest sister—now fourteen—goes against the rules but won't say why when she returns. When she falls very ill, Mayhap, the middle sister, is determined to find a way to heal her and discover the truth behind her actions. Her search leads her, however, to dark secrets not only about the house but about her own past.

From the very beginning, this book dives into a strange world. The house is alive. The grass a being which thinks and acts in and of its own accord. And the author automatically hits this world without any gentle slide into it. In other words, readers need to know that it's imaginative and fantastical right away. With that mindset, this tale grabs from the start, keeps tension high the entire way through, and ends on a delightful note.

The strangeness of this tale notches right in with the characters' names: Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine. Each one has their own droomhund—a small dog, which slides into the girls' heads to help them sleep—, the house creates everything out of thin air, and there's a talking card file in the library. That the girls never explored some corners of the house surprised me, since they'd been living there so long, and at times, they seemed a little less familiar with each other than I'd expect, considering they grew up together alone...stuck in the same rooms. But all of that aside, the story flows wonderfully well and makes it impossible not to want to see what happens next. Because there is a great evil lurking in the house, too.

The sisterly bond shines bright in these pages. Of course, nothing runs smoothly even in the closest relationships, and it's the exploration of this love which makes these pages shine. Mayhap is the main character and what a wonderful girl she is! Her heart is in the right place. She's logical, extremely caring, takes risks but only when necessary, and is simply fun to root for and fever for the entire way through. There are heartbreaking moments as well as touching ones. But it's the light of hope and love which still shines through the darkness and fear, which really makes this a lovely read.

In other words, I highly recommend this one to fans of magic, imagination, secrets, and moments which reach into the darker shadows, where many might fear to go themselves.

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