Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

The Gray Twins reunite in The Whispers in the Walls

Scarlet and Ivy: The Whispers in the Walls, by Sophie Cleverly, (May 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492634065

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we left Ivy Gray at the dismal Rookwood School, she had just found her lost twin, Scarlet; hidden away in an asylum by the tyrannical headmistress, who told her family that Scarlet was dead. Masquerading as Scarlet, Ivy attended Rookwood and discovered the truth about a great many secrets. The Whispers in the Walls picks up just as Ivy reunites with Scarlet and they go home, only to have their spineless father and cruel stepmother send the two girls back. Back to the school that hid one daughter in an asylum and lie about her death. Their father drops them off with a “But it’s different now, it’s still a very good school with a new headmaster”, and has the nerve to tell them he loves them after that, securing a Father of the Year award sometime in the future, I’m sure.

Things aren’t wonderful back at Rookwood. Penny, Scarlet and Ivy’s tormenting nemesis, is still there, and she’s worse than ever. Violet, Penny’s best friend, and bullying accomplice, the girl who was also hidden away at the same asylum, is sent back to Rookwood, but is quiet, withdrawn, and now rooming with Ariadne. Scarlet is insufferable to such a degree, Ivy finds herself distancing from her twin. The headmaster, the sinister Mr. Bartholomew, is a fanatical disciplinarian whose punishments go beyond reason.

The girls are thrown back into this maelstrom, with most of the student body none the wiser. But there are new secrets discovered at Rookwood; secrets about Mr. Bartholomew himself; a secret group of students from the past that may include Scarlet and Ivy’s mother, and another girl rescued from the asylum, hiding in the school.

The Whispers in the Walls is a good follow-up to The Lost Twin, but Scarlet is nearly insufferable. She’s difficult for the mere sake of being difficult, and may put off readers as much as she does her twin sister. Ivy remains a strong character who continues developing through the story; I hope she rubs off on Scarlet for future adventures. The new headmaster, Mr. Bartholomew, continues the tradition of awful school management – Rookwood seems set to go through headmasters and headmistresses like Hogwarts goes through Defense of the Dark Arts professors. There are several story threads presented in The Whispers in the Walls, only a couple of which are resolved; I’m looking forward to seeing where the third book takes us.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Lost Twin: A boarding school whodunit

the lost twinScarlet & Ivy: The Lost Twin, by Sophie Cleverly, (May 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492633396

Recommended for ages 9-13

Ivy is still grieving the death of her twin sister, Scarlet, when the letter from the school comes: a spot has opened up, and she can expect to be picked up immediately. Ivy is indignant – how rude and cold, to be referring to her sister’s death as an “opening” – and it only gets worse once the imperious headmistress, Miss Fox, comes to collect her. Miss Fox tells her that Ivy’s expected to become Scarlet – a face-saving measure for the school. Once at the school, Ivy finds herself in the thick of a few mysteries, all having to do with Scarlet and her disappearance from the school. Can Ivy unravel all the mysteries surrounding the school and learn what really happened to her sister?

Scarlet and Ivy: The Lost Twin is a well-paced, consuming boarding school mystery, set in 1935 England. The characters are interesting and the intrigue keeps pages turning, while getting readers riled up at the injustices Ivy endures. There are so many little mysteries entwined with larger ones – once a thread gets pulled, you’ll be consumed with following it to see where it goes. Fox is an awful human being that loves corporal punishment a bit too much to be in charge of children; Ms. Cleverly has given us a truly hissable villain here (she and Professor Umbridge would get along swimmingly). You’ll root for Ivy and her friend, Ariadne, and the ending leaves you bouncing up and down with the knowledge that we’ll be getting more adventures in the future.

According to Sophie Cleverly’s Twitter, the third Scarlet & Ivy book is out – pretty sure it’s only out in the UK, but let’s be really, really nice to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Ms. Cleverly, so they’ll bring the further adventures of Ivy, Ariadne, & Co. to us here in the States.

The Lost Twin is a good summer reading choice for middle grade readers who enjoy a good mystery with a few well-placed plot twists. I’ve got a lot of kids asking me for good mysteries, so I’ll add this one to my booktalks, along with The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee and Audacity Jones.