The New York Times Book Review - S. S. Taylor
What shines through…is Blakemore's tender understanding of how these childrenand all childrenfeel about their lives and the adults who control them.
Blakemore (Secrets of Truth and Beauty) skillfully explores the intersection of science and magic in this multifaceted story. When 11-year-old Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s father suffers a stroke, the family leaves Cambridge, Mass., for his mother’s ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine. Known as the Water Castle, it’s where her family bottled water, long disappeared, that was believed to have healing powers—some claimed it came from a Fountain of Youth. Interspersed with chapters taking place in the Water Castle in 1908, the plot grows increasingly sophisticated as Ephraim becomes obsessed with finding the water he believes will cure his father. He and two classmates whose families have been linked to his for generations—not always positively—come together on a research project about explorer Robert Peary, but are soon, along with Ephraim’s siblings, discovering secret rooms and staircases in the intricately built house, in search of the water. While strongly suggesting that the water has magical, scientifically based powers, Blakemore refuses to provide a neat explanatory ending (which may frustrate some readers); instead, a sense of skeptical wonder pervades the book and lingers. Ages 10–14. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Weaving legacy and myth into science and magic, old into new and enemies into friends, Blakemore creates an exquisite mystery . . . With keen intelligence and bits of humor, the prose slips calmly between narrative perspectives, trusting readers to pick up a revelation that Ephraim and Mallory don't see--and it's a doozy. This one is special.” Kirkus Review, starred review
“In The Water Castle, science feels magical, and magic feels possible. This is a world I want to live in.” Laurel Snyder, author of Bigger than a Breadbox
“Blakemore skillfully explores the intersection of science and magic in this multifaceted story . . . a sense of skeptical wonder pervades the book and lingers.” Publishers Weekly
“An entertaining and thought-provoking fantasy.” School Library Journal
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
The impressive, turreted, towered Water Castle looms over the small town of Crystal Springs, Maine. It is to this ancestral home that the Appledore-Smith children come to live so that their father can receive the care he needs following a debilitating stroke. The mansion was originally built by Orlando Appledore who spent his entire life in search of the Fountain of Youth, which he was certain could be found in Crystal Springs. Ephraim and younger sister Brynn are especially intrigued by the home's myriad passages, its secret tunnels, rooms that open into other rooms, and the mysterious blue light that seems to shine from the top. At school, Ephraim is in for more surprises; there, he discovers that the students are smarter, faster, and stronger than those at his old school. He also finds out that the townspeople live much longer than the average person. Ephraim becomes obsessed with uncovering all the secrets of Orlando Appledore's life, as he believes the restorative water will cure his now-silent father. In the process, he must seek the help of sworn Appledore-enemy Will Wylie, whose family believes Orlando stole the water's powers from them, and Mallory Green, whose family has cared for the property for generations. The quest takes them on an amazing journey through cavernous underground tunnels to a secret lab that offers up equipment and notations from Orlando Appledore's experiments. Blakemore's characters are likeable kids caught up in an adventure that is part magic, part science, and part faith. Her plot is creative and imaginative with enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing and turning the pages. There is a story within the story as the reader becomes privy to the diary of Dr. Appledore's assistant Nora as well. One question remains unanswered at the endand it is the perfect tease to leaving with readers. Did Mallory's mother drink from Dr. Appledore's waters? With today's fixation on anti-aging and youth, the questions raised about immortality are great discussion starters. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
VOYA - Laurie Vaughan
Ephraim Appledore-Smith is not thrilled about his family’s move to Crystal Springs, Maine. Older brother Price, younger sister Brynn, and he quickly claim rooms in the oddly constructed and uninhabited estate his parents recently inherited. Named for the once flourishing spa and water-bottling concern his ancestors owned and managed, the Water Castle is a site with a history of romance, adventure, unexplained human behavior, and mysterious phenomenon. Overshadowing Ephraim’s daily struggle to fit in at school is the larger issue of his father’s rehabilitation from a debilitating stroke--the motivation for his mother’s decision to move to Crystal Springs in search of special treatment. A series of events places Ephraim among an unlikely threesome that tries to get to the bottom of the mystery--does the water hold magical qualities that enhance and extend life? For Ephraim, the answer could mean the restoration of his father’s health. His peers, Mallory and Will, have equally compelling personal reasons to pursue resolution. Readers who enjoy novels with many embedded stories will take to The Water Castle. Others may find the strings of the three primary characters--and a fourth historical one--too loosely connected to form a compelling whole. Dialog construction is fair and the plot includes several compellingly told events, but it gets bogged down with too many stock characters moodily contemplating their situations. Much remains unexplained throughout and most will find the ending disappointing. Still, The Water Castle will win fans of predictable storytelling with a dash of mystery. Ages 11 to 15.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7— In this novel, three loners become friends while searching for a miracle. After his dad has a stroke, Ephraim Appledore-Smith's physician mom moves the family to the Water Castle, their ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine. Ephraim, the prototypical ordinary middle kid, isn't thrilled about the relocation but looks forward to being the Big City fish in a small-town pond. Things don't go as expected, however, and he discovers that Crystal Springs is full of high achievers and deep, dark secrets. He learns about his family's long-running obsession with exploration, science, and finding the Fountain of Youth. Classmates Mallory, descendant of the Darling family, traditional caretakers of the Water Castle, and Will, whose family has been feuding with the Appledores for generations, join with Ephraim to find out the truth about Crystal Springs, and maybe a cure for Ephraim's dad. Part of the story is told through flashback passages from Nora Darling's perspective; she was hired by Orlando Appledore in 1908 to be his assistant, despite the fact that she was young, female, and black. Ephraim is a realistic kid: needy, uncertain, not particularly brave or logical. Mallory, Will, and Nora are also well drawn, as are some of the adult characters, though others are fairly flat. Not all of the mysteries are cleared up, though most can be guessed at, and the story ends on an optimistic note. Comparisons to Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting (Farrar, 1975) are inevitable, and there will be much for readers to discuss. An entertaining and thought-provoking fantasy.—Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
Weaving legacy and myth into science and magic, old into new and enemies into friends, Blakemore creates an exquisite mystery. Crystal Springs, Maine, "isn't on the map," but it's still where Price, Ephraim and Brynn's mother brings their family when their father has a stroke. The "looming stone house" with hidden floors and impossible rooms, owned by their family (the Appledores) for over a century, was once a resort that claimed its spring water had healing properties--possibly a fountain of youth. Ephraim struggles to fit in at Crystal Springs' peculiarly overachieving school; his classmate Mallory steels herself against her mother's recent departure and her teacher's assignment to study Matthew Henson ("He just assumed she would want to do him, because Henson was black too"). While Mallory, Ephraim and another sixth-grader named Will unravel the castle's secrets (each for different reasons, all serious) and confront age-old hostility among their families, a 1908 storyline unfolds: Young Nora Darling (Mallory's relative) assists old Orlando Appledore in feverish scientific research. Peary and Henson's Arctic expedition features in both timelines; science, history and literature references glow; Nikola Tesla visits Nora and Orlando. With keen intelligence and bits of humor, the prose slips calmly between narrative perspectives, trusting readers to pick up a revelation that Ephraim and Mallory don't see--and it's a doozy. This one is special. (Fiction. 10-14)