The Ash House

Scholastic/Chicken House. Feb. 2021. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338636314.
Gr 4-6–The Ash House is a place with a strict moral code that expects Nicenesses and shuns Nastiness, and the child residents seem to have deeply internalized these lessons and have no knowledge of the outside world. An orphaned boy, taken from a hospital, is dropped at the gates of Ash House, where he is renamed Solitude (Sol). The Headmaster has been gone for three years, and the strain is showing on the children who are surviving on their own in decrepit conditions while they live in fear of visits from the Doctor. Twists and turns abound as Sol tries to understand what is happening, find relief from his debilitating mysterious physical pain, and figure out how to help his new community. Sol, with his fresh perspective and outsider knowledge, shakes things up. The children must figure things out on their own as all the adults in the book are either threats or unhelpful. A dreamlike, hazy, ominous atmosphere is created with the story and the book design. The house and grounds are ethereal and seem alive with potential healing qualities, shifting locations, and dangers. The narrative effectively alternates point of view between Sol, who is described as having brown skin, and the pale-skinned brunette child who befriends him, Dom (Freedom).
VERDICT This creepy story will appeal to readers who are drawn to the unexplained and all things foreboding in its exploration of memory, reality, truth, found family, and survival.

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