Children's Review: Greenglass House / by Madeleine Riley

Note: Lately, I've had many readers ask me what qualifies a book as middle grade. Middle grade is a subset of children's literature recommended for children ages 8-12. They have more complex plots and vocabulary than early chapter books, but don't contain the mature content that warrants the young adult tag. I'd recommend this particular title for students in 4th-6th grade.

I don't remember when or why I purchased this book, but I'm so glad I picked it up for my first middle grade read of the year, as it's both a fantastic middle grade novel in general, but also the perfect read for a snowy, winter day. Greenglass House is a perfect pairing for The Mysterious Benedict Society in a sub-genre of middle grade that I like to call "intellectual/adventure fiction" for in which adventures abound, quirky characters are the norm, and puzzling plots keep the reader enthralled. 

The story follows Milo, a twelve-year-old boy who lives with his parents in an old, creaky inn on top of a mountain in a coastal town known for its smuggler population. At the time of the story, Milo is just readying himself for a lazy Christmas vacation when the inn receives some unexpected guests. Milo, who dislikes change, is ruffled by the arrival of the guests during a time when the inn is usually still and silent. Of course, in the style of a classic mystery (think Agatha Christie), wintry weather arrives and the guests find themselves snowed in. Milo teams up with a girl named Meddy for an imaginary role-playing game to help pass the time until the guests leave. It soon becomes apparent, however, that each guest has a motivation for being at the inn. Milo finds himself with a mystery to solve, keeping him more than busy throughout the story and resulting in a twisty, surprise ending that had me totally entertained.

I loved this story and will certainly be recommending it to all kinds of readers this year. Besides it's obvious comparison to The Mysterious Benedict Society, I also thought it had some of the same elements that made A Series of Unfortunate Events so appealing to middle grade audiences. I liked especially that Milo, our main character, is a good example of a boy who is more sensitive than rough & tumble. It can be hard to find vulnerable boy characters in middle grade and this is a great depiction of a quieter male character. This book also draws some connections to our January reads for the Diverse Books Club, as we're reading books about adoption and fostering this month. In this story, Milo is adopted and struggles with the dissonance of loving his parents but imagining what life would have been like with his birth parents, whom he knows nothing about. Milo is dynamic in that he has complicated feelings about family and belonging, something that I think many young readers will connect with -- and to make it even better, his parents handle those mixed feelings wonderfully well. I loved the setting of this story, with the quirky inn feeling almost like an homage to a classic mystery element with a Weasley-house influence. The sequel, Ghosts of Greenglass Houselooks just as enchanting and is already on my wish list for new books this year.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

  • Title: Greenglass House
  • Author: Kate Milford
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Price: $8 on Amazon
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Personal Library