It’s 1956 in Longford, Illinois, and 11-year-old Anna is tired of being ordinary. Her brother is good at sports and her sister is good at school, but Anna doesn’t think she’s got anything that makes her stand out. That changes when she discovers a strange little shop in town one day. Simply called “Shop”, she wanders in and meets owners Ruth and Vernon, an older couple who call themselves “keepers” and always seem to have whatever a customer most needs at the moment. Anna glimpses a mirror in the shop that seems to reflect what each customer truly wants, and Ruth is delighted that Anna seems to share their gift for “reading”. Ruth offers Anna a job as a shopgirl, and takes the girl under her wing, and Anna finally feels special. But she becomes quickly obsessed with the store, affecting her friendship with her best friend, Carrie; she also notices some changes affecting the town: a beloved teacher turns her back on her students; a store burns down; Anna notices her own sister’s schoolwork suffering. As Ruth pushes Anna to make a difficult life decision, Anna realizes that Ruth isn’t the kindly old storekeeper and mentor she thought she was, and she needs to find a magical solution to save her town and herself.
I loved All Sales Final. Think of it as a Needful Things for middle grade, and you have a good idea of what you’re about to read. Ruth is a warm, cuddly character with a touch of the sinister; Anna is relatable as an ordinary kid who longs to be more: it’s a powerful combination when the two elements come together. Secondary characters are all well-written, having their own backstories and minor subplots, giving nice depth to the story. The “be careful what you wish for” message is strong and speaks to readers on a level they’ll appreciate, and delivering it in a fantastic context makes it a page-turning read. The post-World War II setting strips a lot of technology away, making characters work for a solution and making readers think about how they would cope in a fantasy world that is grounded in the reality of the day: you have magic mirrors, but no ability to text or Google. You have to work for solutions!
Love the character development, love the backstory, love the book. It’s a must for fantasy readers, especially dark fantasy fans who loved books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or Holly Black’s Doll Bones. If you haven’t read Sarah Reida’s 2016 book, Monsterville, add that to your pile, too. It’s sorely underrated, and has more great interplay between characters set in a spooky setting.