Review

Middle Grade Review: The Greenglass House by Kate Milford

GreenglassThe Greenglass House by Kate Milford

From GoodReads: A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer series.

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

This book totally knocked my socks off. I love a good solid mystery, but this had so much more.

One of the great things about the mystery was kids got sh*t done. Milo takes on this role in a role playing game that he and his new friend Meddy connect to real life and it turns out he’s pretty good at getting to the bottom of mysteries. But he isn’t a super genius and he doesn’t have super powers. He just thinks through things logically and notices little details. Since they’re in his house and he doesn’t like change, he notices when things have moved or been tampered with. Nothing magical here. Even better, the grown ups aren’t treated as imbeciles who need some genius kid to come in and set them straight. Most of them have secrets and Milo’s parents have their hands full of caring for 5 (and eventually 8) unexpected guests during a severe snowstorm. They’re busy or are too involved with their own agendas and don’t have time to sneak around the house solving mysteries.

Being trapped in an inn this isn’t exactly a fast-paced, high suspense mystery. In fact the mystery is really a device that leads to soul searching for a lot of the people involved. Milo is adopted and, being Chinese, looks nothing like his white parents. Milo isn’t angst-y about being adopted, but he is curious, a little confused, and feels guilty for feeling those emotions since he does love his adoptive parents. There are a lot of layers here for Milo to work through and the role playing game Meddy introduces him to gives Milo an outlet for exploring having a parent that looks like him. It also gives him permission to imagine what his biological father could have been like. It’s interesting to see how Milo takes the folklore he reads, the role playing game, the stories the guests tell, and the information about the inn that comes to light and interprets it all through the lens of a confused, adopted kid.

The adults are all also fairly fleshed out and some of them are quite the characters. All of them are not at the inn by coincidence, but arrived looking for information about its history. None of them are forthcoming with this information and it forms the basis for the mystery. As it turns out, while the information all of them are seeking is interconnected, it is still separate.

There is also a thread of friendship as the guests come together to tell stories and are brought together by the information they are seeking. Most of them do not leave friends, but do leave with a greater sense of tolerance and understanding. Milo, who was looking forward to a Christmas vacation alone with his parents, comes to accept the guests and feel for them. He also builds a friendship with Meddy and learns to work with her as a team through the role playing game.

So I have to say there is a huge twist very near to the end. I’m not going to spoil it, but I wanted to talk around it a bit. I totally did not see it coming until the last possible second. It’s a device I’ve seen employed in other mysteries so maybe people who read mysteries more than I do will see it sooner. Maybe not. However, the times I have seen it used it often feels like a really cheap trick. That was not at all the case here. It was very masterfully done. Well played, Milford, well played.

Greenglass House would be a good one for kids who enjoyed The Westing Game or even Blue Balliet’s mysteries. While its length and slower pacing make it feel more like a middle grade novel (6th-8th grade) I could certainly see a strong 4th or 5th grader loving this too.