Gr 7-10-- James, 13, is a social case with a criminal record for shoplifting. He is sent to stay with his crippled great-uncle in the English countryside while his alcoholic mother is in the hospital. His anger and confused feelings cause him to withdraw into himself and reject all tokens of friendship offered by the kindly housekeeper. He is further troubled by sleepwalking and nightmares. Then two things happen: he discovers a door leading nowhere and other evidence that the house once had another wing; and he begins to have strangely vivid dreams in which he is another boy who once lived on the estate. As the skillfully developed plot unfolds in alternating sections, past and present touch, mingle, and overlap in powerful and moving ways. In a terrific climax, James finds out what happened to the missing section of the house and how his great-uncle and the housekeeper relate to what his dreams have shown of the past. The final revelation, as well as the identity of the housekeeper, is the breakthrough that helps the James of the present begin to rediscover his feelings. In a gentle ending that is realistic and only partially upbeat, readers see the boy deciding to reach out to his great-uncle to try to save him and himself from remaining emotionally dead. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and very well told. --Lyle Blake Smythers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Junior High Up
Sent to live with a reclusive great-uncle at Greville Lodge, 13-year-old James does his best to be as unlikable as possible. He is rude and duplicitous; he steals from a small shop in town; and he kills a blackbird with the steel-tipped dart given to him as a present by his alcoholic mother. While all of this gives him great satisfaction in the light of day, it doesn't keep him from dreaming at night. Instead of nightmares, though, he dreams about Greville Lodge the way it was years ago, of the boy who is now his great-uncle, and of his great-uncle's boyhood friend, Ben. Witnessing his relative's tragic past triggers James' own grief and anger at his mother's neglect, at his killing of the blackbird, and at all the circumstances of his life that are beyond his control. Wilde renders James' dream world as effectively as his real world and slips easily between the two. While the reclusive great-uncle and the devoted housekeeper are stock characters, James' personality is drawn with enough clarity to make him sympathetic even when he is the most maddening. If his reformation is astonishingly simple and quick, it is also dramatic and touching.