June 25, 2012

The Aviary

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell (Knopf 2011)
Historical / Mystery

Eleven year old Clara lives in the once magnificent Glendoveer mansion, (the family home of a great magician) with her mother, the housekeeper, the magician’s aging widow and an aviary full of exotic birds. The birds respond to Clara as they respond to no one else – squawking, shrieking and eventually talking – as they enlist her help in solving the mystery of the five Glendoveer children, who were murdered fifty years before. It is a mystery that Clara is, unknowingly, at the very heart of.

The Aviary is a well paced, if slightly predictable, juvenile take on the Victorian gothic novel. The Glendoveer mansion is a gorgeous crumbling mausoleum, complete with locked rooms and drafty halls, in which Clara is essentially confined due to a “weak heart”. Her connection to Mrs. Glendoveer and the feathered inhabitants of the aviary is both genuine and touching, grounding her in her cloistered world, even as she longs to break free of it. The mystery at the heart of the novel – who killed the five oldest Glendoveer children and kidnapped the youngest – is interesting enough to drive the plot, though it does, at times, verge on the slightly ridiculous as it nears the inevitable climax. Overall, a quick-reading love note to period fiction of the Victorian age with just enough creepiness and mystery to keep young readers on their toes. Pair with other ghost stories in a library book club, or include in a classroom reading list with “Turn of the Screw” or “The Monkey’s Paw”. It’s a fun novel and a good way to introduce tension and mood. 

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