book reviews by Althea

The Secret of Goldenrod – Jane O’Reilly ***

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The Secret of Goldenrod
The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O’Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This charming and old-fashioned-style story for young people can definitely be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I’d particularly recommend it to fans of Zilpha Keatley Snyder – except for a couple of mentions of cell phone cluing me in that this was a more recent publication, it completely brought me back to the Snyder books that I read back in the 70s.

Trina’s dad renovates old houses for a living, so she’s used to having to move from place to place. But his latest job – a dilapidated and remote mansion called ‘Goldenrod’ – is going to be more challenging than usual, in more ways than one. Not only is her new school a tight-knit, tiny community where everyone already knows each other, but the whole town seems to sincerely believe that Goldenrod is haunted – they’re legitimately terrified of the place. Trina has no such fears – but something does seem to be a little bit odd about Goldenrod. It seems that she can sense the ‘mood’ of the house. And then, in a secret tower room, she discovers an amazing antique dollhouse – and a doll that can talk.

The setup is great, and I loved everything about the haunted house, the doll, &c. Trina’s personality was complex and believable, accurately capturing a girl just at the cusp of maturity and all of her conflicting wants regarding family and friends. However, I didn’t think that the second half of the book, and the resolution, was as good.

Part of this was the coincidence that I’d just (not of my own volition) viewed the terrible and sappy movie “Instructions not Included,” which features the exact, precise same scenario involving “postcards from mom.” After the movie, I just couldn’t take that premise seriously. Another part was that, in my personal experience, trying to make nice and befriend a bully is a waste of time at best. It never really ends well. Thirdly, too much of the story’s energy toward the end was invested in the “throwing a big party,” which was a bit of a dull climax. And lastly, the family scenario was wrapped up just a tad too neatly for my taste.

Still, overall, I enjoyed the story – and younger people will likely enjoy it even more.

Many thanks to Lerner Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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