Author: Judith Rossell
Publisher: ABC Books, 2014. US edition by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 261 pages.
High on a cliff above the gloomy coastal town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts. But one night, Stella sees something she shouldn't have... Something that will set in motion and adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for...
I believe I picked up this one on a recommendation from the Goodreads Great Middle Grade Reads group. I'm glad I did. The book is a sort of semi-humorous gothic mystery for kids. Which might not sound super appealing, but the book is both funny and scary (mostly in the "oh no! She's in trouble again" way), and certainly grabbed me and pulled me right along.
Stella is a Victorian child, being raised by delightfully awful Aunts, who are clearly trying to mold her into something she is not (a mindless little 'perfect child'). But she has an imagination, curiosity, and a nose for trouble, as well as maybe a little something else that she doesn't know about yet. She follows her nose into a fair bit of trouble, with close escapes, two kidnappings, a couple of disguises, and the acquisition of a few friends who help her triumph in the end.
There is nothing terribly deep about the book; this isn't an "issues" book. It's just a delightful romp through a not-quite-real world with a sea-side resort and a carnival on a pier. It is also almost certainly the start of something glorious, as a few questions are left unresolved at the end. I did like that the author didn't feel the need to follow Stella all the way back to her aunts; it is enough to know that she is brave enough to go back and face them after being out all night, and that she is determined to learn more about who she really is--a great mystery that the reader can guess at, but will have to wait for another book to have fully resolved.
If you or your child are too easily frightened by somewhat spooky magical things, stay away. But if you like a touch of the horrible with a larger touch of humor and loyal friends, dive right in. It's a fast and easy read, but a lot of fun for anyone over the age of maybe 9 (because of the scary bits).
FTC Disclosure: I checked Withering-by-Sea out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."