Series: Lewis Barnavelt #11
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers on 10/5/06
Genres: Middle Grade
Source: Audrey's Astounding Library
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The lovable underdog Lewis Barnavelt and his best friend Rose Rita are at it again—investigating the curious (and possibly supernatural?) goings-on in their town of New Zebedee. They get more than they bargained for when a new family moves into the Hawaii House, one of the oddest-looking houses in town, and Lewis and Rose Rita are drawn into a mystery involving forces far beyond the shores of their imagination. Why are there strange drumbeats emanating from the top floor of the Hawaii House? And why is Lewis having dreams about Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire? Incorporating actual Hawaiian legends with a spine-tingling story of suspense, this is another great addition to the Bellairs canon.
Uh, I mean Brad Strickland, because John Bellairs is dead. Sort of.
Once upon a time, my young onions, there lived a bookworm on the top of a hill. For complicated reasons that involved the near-total collapse of the California school system, she was bused to a middle school 35 minutes away, instead of the middle school 10 minutes from her house. By law. Anyway, she had a lot of time for reading, is what, both on that bus and on the mile walk from the bus stop back up to her house on the hill.
No no. Don’t be silly. That really was the closest the bus would come. If the district could’ve legally gotten away with slowing to 25 mph and pushing us out the door 500 yards from the school itself, they would’ve. So yeah, mile walk. Calves with scary edges.
In summer the walk was hot, and in winter it wasn’t cold (see: California) but it got dark really quickly, way before I could make it to my house, and it was in the middle of a forest filled with rattlesnakes and tarantulas and yes, I whined like a buzzsaw about all this shit to my poor mother. Point being: I was perfectly primed to have the bejeesus scared out of me by John Bellairs. Specifically, The Figure in the Shadows. There’s a scene where Lewis Barnavelt is walking home from the library in late autumn, and it gets dark around him, and he starts to think there’s someone following him.
He stops and looks around. No one there.
But still the footsteps continue, muffled slightly by the crispy leaf noises. He can’t see the person, but he knows he’s being followed, then suddenly night has actually fallen and he’s full-out RUNNING from streetlight to streetlight as his pursuer gets closer and closer, and all he can do is hope he can make it to his magic-slinging uncle’s house before this thing strings him up by his Achilles tendons. And the heck of it is, it turns out there really was someone following him.
After I read that book and it was coming on winter, everything getting dark as I trudged up that damn hill with no one for miles, I was so convinced there were people lurking in the bushes lining the roadsides that I scared myself witless and my trudging would turn into running and I swore I could hear footsteps behind me, crunching through the leaves.
So of course I then read every John Bellairs I could get my hands on.
John Bellairs died in 1991, but his franchise lives on, taken on by Brad Strickland. And I, as a then-senior in high school, was horrified. Messing with perfection! Tampering with arcane forces of awesomeness! Git yer grubby hands off those books, interloper!
Of course, as with most things, my hs senior self was totally wrong. Brad Strickland’s books — generated from Bellairs’ two unfinished manuscripts and two plot outlines — were not bad. They did not suck at all.
And then Strickland did the unthinkable: he kept on writing Bellairs’ characters in stories of his own devising.
In The House Where Nobody Lived, Lewis Barnavelt and his best friend Rose-Rita are starting middle school. They befriend a boy whose family recently moved into The Hawaii House, an abandoned mansion with a tragic history. Before long, the family and the town are both beset by strange drumbeats and demonic possession, all of which seems to point back to the aforementioned tragic history, in which the standard Bellairs formula is applied: misguided old coot retires to previously harmless mansion on a quest to thwart dark forces for his own gain.It’s a great formula when you think about it: a cautionary tale about the danger of using sorcery for your own twisted ends and going anywhere near weird and muttering old men. (Awesome! A twofer!)
I really liked this one. Like, a ton.
There’s a moment near the beginning, where Lewis and Rose-Rita are checking out The Hawaii House before school starts and Lewis gets the sense that they’re not alone in the forest. And that moment is every bit as spine-tingly as the one in Figure in the Shadows, if not better.
Also, and this really sealed the deal for me, Strickland honors how Bellairs treated Rose-Rita as less of a sidekick and more of a second protagonist. She has agency and emotions. She affects the plot and contributes to it and — brace yourself, onions — this book passes the Bechdel Test.
Now, I wish I could speak to how fairly House of Nobody deals to Hawaiian legend, specifically Pele and the night marchers, but I can’t, I just don’t have the expertise and am not a native Hawaiian. I just enjoyed the way the whole story was told.
Especially since I didn’t have to walk a mile uphill to get the full benefit of it.
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