Sunday, October 14, 2018

Middle Grade fiction: Castle Hangnail 

Title: Castle Hangnail
Author: Ursula Vernon
Publication Info: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015. 386 pages.
Source: Library digital collection

Publisher’s Blurb:
When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

My Review:
Oh, this was just what I needed! Reality has been pretty horrific lately, so I wasn't inspired to read a truly scary book for our Great Middle Grade Reads October BOTM. I was happy my choice won, and when I started reading I knew we'd gotten it right. The description of Castle Hangnail which opens the book plays delightfully off every gothic pile you've ever read of, with the minor distractions of cheery dandelions in the "blasted heath" that surrounded it and a stray teacup by the front door. 

And the minions! They are the most delightful collection of misfits to wander the pages of absurd fiction, topped only by the absurdity of the 12-year-old Wicked Witch who shows up to become master of the castle.

The book, in my opinion, found exactly the right balance between the laugh-out-loud moments and some real peril, not to mention some very grown-up threats to Castle Hangnail (frozen plumbing? It takes a genius to make that both a hilarious problem and an existential threat). Yes, there are incredibly serious problems facing Molly and the castle minions. But the author doesn't let that stop her making the solutions as absurd as the idea of a minion made of steam. I didn't even think that the nod to mean-girl issues damaged the story, and I hope very much that Molly will be returning to the castle in a sequel.

My Recommendation:
A perfect Halloween read for kids from 7 or 8 up. I think it would be wonderful to read it aloud to the kids. Maybe I'll have to set up a Skype session with my boys... think they'd like that in their college dorms? (In fact, this kind of reminds me of the Hank the Cowdog books we used to read to the boys, with their mix of slapstick little-kid humor and more sophisticated jokes that the parents can get without comment).

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Castle Hangnail from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange 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."    


  1. Sounds like a great choice for this time of year. You'll have to let us know if your boys let you read it to them over Skype.


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