Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review of The Mysterious Howling (book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) by Maryrose Wood

Wood, Maryrose. The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, book 1). Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, 2010.

As so many young and penniless but well-educated women have done in so many novels, 15-year-old Penelope Lumley takes the train on a journey toward a job as a governess in a grand yet mysterious house. Once she arrives, she finds that the children - and the job - are not quite what she had expected, the two brothers and their little sister having been raised by wolves before being "rescued" by Lord Frederick and his new wife Lady Constance.

Penelope's stalwart and creative response to the obstacles posed by this situation is just one of the many joys of this quaint yet fresh and lively book. The children are taught some English (spoken with a howling accent), some Latin, some poetry, and learn (with limited success) not to be driven into a frenzy by the sight and smell of squirrels. In short, Penelope makes tremendous progress in just a short time, aided by the children's natural goodness, intelligence, and excellent senses of humor.

All is not well, however. Lord Frederick is overheard making several rather ominous remarks about the children's fate. Lady Constance gets drunk at her own huge Christmas party. And several of the male guests seem to think there is going to be a hunt later in the evening - a hunt that they seem to think will involve the three children.

What is Lord Frederick's plan? What is the origin of these three mysterious children? Who released that squirrel right in the middle of the Christmas party, causing pandemonium? And what is making that strange noise behind that attic wall?

The tone is a piquant combination of earnest, old-fashioned, sly, and tongue-in-cheek. The narrator is clearly of our times, mentioning such modern things as plastic-wrapped meat in supermarkets, and yet this book feels like Jane Eyre and every other 19th-century Sensible Young Governess novel rolled into one - with a zesty sense of fun that those older books sometimes lack. Kids may not recognize all the tropes, but they will love this book never-the-less. Who could resist the three howling siblings with their endearing pronunciations (they call their governess Lumawoo - which sounds annoying but isn't, I promise) and their enactment of the "'Wreck of the Hespawoo.' A poem by Longfelloo," during which young Cassiopeia lashes herself to a potted fern while her brothers rather thrillingly portray the bowlegged captain and the stormy night?

The illustrations, appropriately rascally, add plenty of appeal. And there's still some huge mysteries unsolved at the end of the book, promising a sequel that will be published in March 2011 (argh...! too long to wait!)

Tremendous fun for most kids ages 9 to 12, as well as Gentle Readers of all ages.

And here's the videwooooo! (which doesn't have NEARLY enough howling)

1 comment:

  1. Ooh! I'm making my summer reading list as a motivator for getting through finals, and this one is going right on the list. It sounds a little like Aiken's "Wolves Chronicles," which is my favorite series in the history of ever.