House of Secrets by Diane Harker

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House of Secrets by Diane Harker

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Loralei Haylock
Reviewed by Loralei Haylock
Summary: An intelligent and thought provoking book about family, honesty and secrecy. Great for history buffs, but probably won't appeal widely to children.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing
ISBN: 978-1846243578

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Jane has had to grow up fast. Constantly moving from place to place, never staying in the same school for long, and always reminded of her mother's money worries, Jane longs for the kind of life where she can just be a kid, and not have to deal with adult problems.

When she's sent to stay at her sister's student digs, the Laurels, things go from bad to worse. The Laurels is a decrepit Victorian Townhouse, freezing cold, with no food, and to make matters worse, Jane's sister, Billa, doesn't even want her there.

Just when Jane is feeling at her loneliest, she finds herself magically taken back in time to the Laurels at its heyday – in the 1890s. Posing as the daughter of an erstwhile bohemian relative, Jane finds comfort in the warm house and the structure of Victorian life, and friendship in Lucy, a girl her own age.

But the seemingly perfect life of Lucy's family begins to unravel, and Jane sees her chances of ever getting back home starting to slip away.

This is an intelligent and thought provoking book that explores the pros and cons of honesty and secrecy. The juxtaposition of the modern day family against a Victorian era household is an interesting way of highlighting the central themes and questions, and Harker elicits many of the different facets of Victorian life through Lucy's dysfunctional family, from bohemians to suffragettes.

But while as an adult I can appreciate the subtle cleverness of the story, the book does have one fundamental problem. It lacks that sparkle, that excitement that would make it appeal widely to children. I've no doubt that bright, conscientious children will enjoy this book – particularly the history buffs among them, but I wonder if any would read it if it wasn't put in their hand and recommended.

Slightly older readers might enjoy Alice in Love and War by Ann Turnbull. For more Victorian era adventures, try The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff.

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