Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2011:
"An absorbing mix of talking birds, ghostly messages, kidnapped children, magic spells & tragic family secrets."
School Library Journal. November 1, 2011:
“O’Dell weaves a tapestry of hauntingly gorgeous imagery with this atmospheric tale of suspense, magic, and adventure. Readers will be captivated from the first page on.”
Booklist, October 1, 2011:
"O’Dell has crafted a terrific story with just the right degree of horror."
It’s been a few years since readers have heard from O’Dell, apparently because she’s been getting her Frances Hodgson Burnett on. This Gilded Age departure from O’Dell’s contemporary fare depicts Clara Dooley, an 11-year-old invalid whose mother keeps the fabulous, mysterious house of a magician’s widow, Mrs. Glendoveer. The kindly widow has secrets, not least of which is her love for five terrifying birds that live in an iron cage in the garden, but she dies before Clara can discover more than that she had a baby who disappeared. Clara, lonely and rebellious, struggles to make contact with a neighbor, Daphne, despite her mother’s prohibitions. Daphne relays more gossip about the Glendoveers, but it’s not until Daphne’s kitten gets inside the aviary that Clara begins unraveling the truth. Nursing the injured honeycreeper, Clara believes the bird responds by “talking.” Can it be? The honeycreeper’s encouragement leads to discovery after discovery in a well-paced, high-tension mystery that draws not only on Burnett, but also C.S. Lewis, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Neil Gaiman, joining a rich heritage of stories about children with a secret “room of their own.” Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Gr 4–6—A crumbling seaside mansion is the only home 11-year-old Clara has ever known. Forbidden a normal childhood because of a weak heart, she lives her days in isolation, her only company being her housekeeper mother, Ruby the cook, and elderly Mrs. Glendoveer. There are the aviary birds, but Clara fears their piercing screeches. One stormy day a mynah screams the name: Elliot. A single inquiry leads Clara to a terrible story involving the kidnapping and drowning of the five oldest Glendoveer children and the disappearance of baby Elliot. The children's father, a famous magician, was blamed for the tragedy. Fueled by curiosity and the promise of friendship with a new girl, Clara digs deeper. The girls learn that the aviary birds are key to what really happened that fateful day and devise a plan to bring the real kidnapper to justice, find Elliot, and free the trapped souls of the Glendoveer children. In solving the mystery, Clara learns of her own connection to the Glendoveer family. O'Dell weaves a tapestry of hauntingly gorgeous imagery with this atmospheric tale of suspense, magic, and adventure. Readers will be captivated from the first page on.—Alissa J. LeMerise, Oxford Public Library, MI
In the early years of the 20th century, a 40-year-old mystery in a dead magician's crumbling mansion magically changes Clara Dooley's life forever.
Eleven years old and barely allowed out of the house due to her "weak heart," Clara and her mother live with ancient Mrs. Glendoveer. Mother nurses the widow and keeps the mansion in mostly working order with the help of cook Ruby. All of them tend the magician's five surviving birds, of various species, that live in the backyard aviary. When Clara hears the mynah shout "Elliott," she asks Mrs. Glendoveer who that might be, only to find it's the name of Mrs. Glendoveer's baby, who went missing decades before. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies shortly thereafter, Clara discovers that five other children vanished with Elliott; despite the impropriety, Clara begins to investigate with the help of Daphne, her new (and secret) friend from town. O'Dell jumps genres to great effect in this spooky, fantasy/mystery (Agnes Parker... Keeping Cool in Middle School, 2007, etc.). She evokes the period so well that (older) readers might suspect they're reading a lost collaboration between E. Nesbit and Agatha Christie. O'Dell reveals the mystery and magic incrementally, even as Clara simultaneously discovers her autonomy. Readers seeking instant gratification might not stick it out, but they'll be cheated out of an action-packed, page-turning finale.
An absorbing mix of talking birds, ghostly messages, kidnapped children, magic spells and tragic family secrets.(Historical fantasy. 9-12)