“The Secrets of Hawthorne House” by Donald Firesmith

The secret in this novel is a dream every school child must have at some time: a magical way to deal with bullies. Of course, the problem is to use the magic without letting anyone, especially your new best friend, know you’re using magic. This theme of the problems of “otherness” adds depth to the book, and compensates for the plain nature of the other conflicts: money worries, generational conflict, and a rather last-minute treasure hunt.

The form of this novel is a bit fragmented. The plot reaches a strong climax about half way through, then after a few chapters of a lot of things happening but nothing important going on, it starts with another conflict, this one more serious, almost as if it’s a new book.

Another minor problem with the writing is the use of regional dialect. The usual technique with writing accents is to hit them harder at the beginning, then fade them as the story goes on, because they become irritating over time. In this case, “ayah” as a version of “yes,” began to bother me after a while. On the other hand “tah” instead of “to,” and “heah” instead of “hear” can slip in anywhere; we pretty much don’t notice them, and they add richness to the characters.

The strength of the writing is in the personalities. The outside characters are slightly stereotyped, as can be expected in a YA story, but the members of the two families involved are well-rounded and entertaining. Matt, the main character is a great study in teenage inner conflict, and a sympathetic and positive role model as well. 

In general, a smoothly written, well-edited book which will be enjoyed by YA readers.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


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