Greenglass House by Kate Milford

greenglass house

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion, 2014, 384 pages.

Reading Level: Middle grades (ages 10-12)

Recommended for: Ages 10 and up

The Greenglass House is an old inn set on a remote cliff near a smuggler’s cove and is run by Milo (an adopted boy of Asian heritage) and his parents. And in Greenglass House, one snowy Christmas vacation, a series of crimes is committed…by someone within the house. Greenglass House takes the trope of crime-committed-by-someone-in-the-house (i.e. The Westing Game) and adds emotional heft, a complex backstory, a ghost, and adoption issues to the mix.

When the story opens, Milo’s family is anticipating a nice, calm, Christmas vacation free of the usual guests that frequent their old inn. A magnificent winter storm and the arrival of not just one intrepid traveler, but multiple reclusive guests, sets the intricate story in motion. Shortly after the odd new guests have all been housed, a crime in triplicate is committed, Milo makes a new friend, and a young detective team is born.

Milford excels in creating many different, memorable characters in this tale. Her use of Milo’s parents is refreshing—they are present and clearly love him even though the story centers on Milo. (Many middle grade novels remove parents somehow or cast them in an antagonistic role.) Milo learns to appreciate his own unique gifts and to embrace his dual parentage (including the many unknowns about his birth parents). Some of the characters’ secrets result in happy endings, and all the characters end up having their personal quests resolved.

While there is much to recommend this tale, there are a couple of issues to note. First, Milo and his new friend Meddy engage in a role-playing game (“Odd Trails”) throughout the story. Milford leverages this in a truly inspiring way, showing how Milo in particular comes out of his shell and begins to embrace his distinctive abilities. The game is not sinister, but some readers may wish to know about the role-playing element in advance.

Second, (SPOILER ALERT) one of the main characters turns out to be a ghost. The construct of the story from the get-go is unrealistic fantasy, so the inclusion of this ghost isn’t particularly sinister or otherworldly. Rather, it is in keeping with the feel of this mystery set in a very old inn with secrets of its own. Still, any presence of the paranormal invites us to use extra caution, and some families may want to skip the book for this reason.

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Artistic Rating: 5
  • Worldview Rating: 4

Cautions: Supernatural (ghost)

Recommended Use: Entertainment, Independent Read

Categories: Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Mystery, Middle Grades, Life Issues (Adoption)

cover image thanks to goodreads; thanks to publisher for book via netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Sherry Early on September 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    GK Chesterton, On Ghosts: On Ghost Stories
    “I can claim to be tolerably detached on the subject of ghost stories. I do not depend upon them in any way; not even in the sordid professional way, in which I have at some periods depended on murder stories. I do not much mind whether they are true or not. I am not, like a Spiritualist, a man whose religion may said to consist entirely of ghosts. But I am not like a Materialist, a man whose whole philosophy is exploded and blasted and blown to pieces by the most feeble and timid intrusion of the most thin and third-rate ghost. I am quite ready to believe that a number of ghosts were merely turnip ghosts, elaborately prepared to deceive the village idiot. But I am not at all certain that they succeeded even in that; and I suspect that their greatest successes were elsewhere. For it is my experience that the village idiot is very much less credulous than the town lunatic. On the other hand, when the merely skeptical school asks us to believe that every sort of ghost has been a turnip ghost, I think such skeptics rather exaggerate the variety and vivacity and theatrical talent of turnips.”
    ~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Illustrated London News,’ May 30, 1936.

    I tend to agree with Chesterton. I don’t really see the harm in ghost stories, even though I doubt the veracity and reality of supposedly true ghost stories. And I leave room in my philosophy for the very small possibility that God actually allows ghosts of some kind. I’m not sure why ghosts have to be identified with the occult either. There’s at least one ghost story in Scripture, although it is rather occult-ish. In this story, there’s no “summoning up of spirits”, no seances. It’s just a simple fantasy with a ghost that’s no different really from a time-traveller in other stories. If someone time travels into the future, then he’s really a “ghost” by another name, a person who has already died but somehow manages to travel into the time past his/her death.

  2. Betsy Farquhar on September 27, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Great quotation, Sherry! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Meagan on September 29, 2020 at 11:48 pm

    Greenglass House is amazing. There is hardly anything like it. Kate Milford is my favourite author, except for some misuses of God’s name and, in other books, ALMOST mocking Christians. In ‘The Boneshaker’ at least, the devil is used in the ‘at the crossroads’ way. I don’t know if I should decide to tolerate this for the brilliant writing, and obviously not agree with everything. Thankfully, this doesn’t come up in the Greenglass House books, and so I still recommend them to any other tween/early teens around… when I can find someone who will listen… They’re amazing! This review pretty much describes it perfectly.
    The three Greenglass House books (also: Ghosts of Greenglass House and The Thief Knot) are probably my all-time favourite for this age group. Thanks for helping me the words to recommend them to others with (I don’t mean that I’ll plagiarise. This is also my favourite review site to recommend)

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