The Book of Elsewhere: The Shadows
By Jacqueline West
Paperback, 241 pages
Olive and her parents move into a large, somewhat creepy old house, complete with all the furniture of the previous (and now deceased!) resident. As Olive tries to adjust to her new surroundings, she notices something odd about the paintings in the house – there are things moving inside them! After finding a pair of old glasses that allow her to travel into the paintings, along with three talking cats, Olive realizes there’s something sinister lurking within the magic house.
I love dark middle grade, and while Elsewhere wasn’t as morbid as I’d hoped, it still had a sinister vibe and a fun concept. It opens with neighbors speculating about whether or not the previous owner of the house was eaten by her cats after death and as Olive runs in and out of paintings, builds up a sense of dread about what dark magic is lurking in the walls.
The concept of being able to move through the different paintings after finding a pair of magic glasses pleasantly reminded me of Sixty-Eight Rooms and I think young Millie would have loved to be able to jump into paintings and explore alongside a snarky talking cat or two.
I think the villain was a little under-developed – we get a sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing, but not until the end of the book. I would have liked a better glimpse of them, but I’m hoping there will be more to discover in future books. Olive shines as a character and my favorite aspect was her battle with loneness and self-doubt. Her family moves a lot and Olive faces some inner demons during the final boss battle, if you will, and it solidified her.
There were three talking cats and perhaps the book could have done with two (yes, this coming from a cat lady!). They were flat and cliché. Their personalities were over-the-top and added a silliness to the book that detracted from the darkness, which was a bummer for me, but is probably a nice change of pace for younger readers.
Also, I love the shiny cover.
I will certainly be reading the rest of the series and can’t wait to see where West takes this. I’m glad my friend happened to notice this when we were out book shopping. I would recommend this to all lovers of middle-grade with a darker, magical touch.
You can visit West’s website here.